Rod St. Aubyn: What Is The Political Mood In North Dakota And Across The Nation?


North Dakota – With ND’s strong economy, vibrant oil production, good crops despite the late plantings, and very low unemployment, people appear to be satisfied with the overall political environment.  Not to say that there aren’t some challenges that currently exist such as the Western ND infrastructure issues that politicians have made news with their recent press announcements, but overall it seems that most people are happy how ND is being governed.  I think back to the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, and the public showed their resentment with the 1989 tax referrals.  They were frustrated with the “Doom and Gloom” political environment that existed then and responded to the new political philosophy of “Schafer Means Business” promoted by then candidate, former Gov. Ed Schafer.  I was first elected in 1991 after those tax referrals and my new House “freshman class” was extremely large due to that tax referral revolution.  It is my opinion that the anti-tax sentiment was cemented back then.  There is no dispute that the cost of government has increased more than many people would care to see, but to date the ND Legislature has generally established budgets and policies that have fostered sustained economic growth.

Now today the Republicans are campaigning on their successes and the strong ND economy which is the envy of the entire country while the Democrats are arguing that the Legislature needs more balance.  One key issue implied in the Democrats’ complaint is that of the controversial abortion legislation.  But what is interesting is that you don’t see many Democratic candidates that are being explicit about that issue.  Instead it is implied by most candidates.  They know it is a very sensitive issue and citizens have definite feelings.  Though this issue may in fact ultimately determine the fate of some current legislators in their races, overall I don’t expect much change in the overall makeup of the ND Legislature due to this issue.

I personally think that the Democrats are using the wrong approach with their “ND needs balance” theme and the implied abortion issue.  North Dakotans need some concrete reasons to change directions.  They do not want to go back to the old “Gloom and Doom” era.  I personally think that the Democrats would have had a better strategy by advocating more tax decreases and putting more of the “surplus dollars” back into the hands of the taxpayer instead of giving the image of wanting to spend more of those dollars on their own pet programs.  Republicans would have had to defend why they didn’t want to give more money back to the taxpayer sooner.  Though this may not be totally true or easy to explain with different statutory reserve funds, the average citizen perceives ND sitting on incredible surpluses and could have afforded to do more tax relief earlier.  Democrats could have used that issue against Republicans.  Though it would have been impossible to accurately predict ND’s oil growth, arguing that point would have been a far better political approach than “ND needs balance.”

It is my belief that after the election, Republicans will continue to control over 2/3 of the House and 2/3 of the Senate and will in fact probably pick up a few seats.  I do expect that there will be a few upsets by both parties, but the overall makeup will not change much.  As far as the state-wide races I expect that the Republicans will be successful overall, but it is not unimaginable that a couple of races could change hands due to some recent controversies.  But even that is doubtful.  I personally think that the Democrats’ “ND needs balance” is a failed approach and will not be successful.

Federal – At the Federal scene, the mood is just the opposite of that in North Dakota.  The public wants change.  I think that President Obama has given so much ammunition to the Republicans that the GOP realistically will take over the Senate and will gain even more seats in the House.  The President is seen as a pariah on the campaign trail with his overall negative public opinion.  His lack of leadership with foreign affairs, the numerous scandals such as Fast and Furious, Benghazi and the IRS, and the overall negative opinion of the economy have dropped the President’s popularity to an all-time low.  He has been relegated to the function of campaign fundraising.  Most of the Democratic candidates want his fundraising prowess, but generally don’t want to be seen campaigning with him.  This is not much unlike the same attitude of Republican candidates in the last 2 years of President George W. Bush’s final term after the public became so war weary.

If the Republicans do take over the Senate, the Democrats will regret changing the Senate rules with their “Mini Nuclear Option”.  As the saying goes, the “chickens will come home to roost” and it will then be the Democrats crying “fowl” with future confirmations and other procedural votes.

If the Republicans control the US House and Senate after this year’s election, I wish they would have their own “Contract with America” similar to the one done by former Speaker Newt Gingrich and pass legislation that American’s truly want.  Personally, I wish Republicans would have proposed this during their current campaigns.  I think it would be best to elect new Republican leadership in both the House and the Senate to show that Republicans are serious about changing Congress.  Legislation that would encourage job growth, efforts to reduce the astronomical national debt, and establishing laws that would strengthen the economy would be popular and would give the Republicans a more positive image among the American public.  It is immaterial if President Obama would veto the legislation or not; it establishes American priorities and would be fodder for the 2016 Presidential Elections.  Will this happen?  Who knows, but if the Republicans want a serious future in Congress and in the Presidency, they better “wake up and smell the coffee” because the electorate is not afraid to change their loyalties again in the future.