Over the weekend the North Dakota Democratic-Nonpartisan League held a reorganization at which party chairwoman Kylie Oversen, a former lawmaker who lost her seat in last year’s election, won another cycle as the party’s leader.
Publicly the party is painting smiley faces all over the reorganization. “The amazing participation at today’s meeting is a clear sign that we, the Democratic-Nonpartisan League, are fired up and committed to fighting for the issues that matter to working families and citizens across our state,” Oversen said in a statement after her election.
The truth, though, is much more complicated.
I spoke to two different Democrats who attended the reorganization event, each of whom spoke with me only on condition of anonymity, but they independently confirmed one another’s claims. Their message to me? There are serious divides within the party.
Not even Senator Heidi Heitkamp, the only Democrat to win an election on the statewide ballot since 2008 and owner of some pretty strong approval numbers, is immune from the acrimony. My sources told me that while addressing the assembled Democrats the Senator was heckled from the audience.
“She looked fairly shocked,” my source told me, adding that it was “rather embarrassing.”
One of my sources said Heitkamp was shouted at over her comments about fentanyl use in Grand Forks. My other source said members of the audience were also angry with Heitkamp over her lack of support for “single-payer health care.”
Heitkamp apparently told those people that a single-payer system “isn’t going to happen.”
“Heidi is in a lot of trouble with mainstream Democrats over her votes,” one source told me, adding that Heitkamp “left right away” after her speech.
Interestingly, while Heitkamp is getting heckled by a faction of Demcorats here in North Dakota, she’s been touting her vote for Trump’s appointment to the Supreme Court to the national media, saying that her constituents have been thanking her for it.
SAB readers will remember that during the Democratic National Committee convention in 2016 a group of North Dakota delegates approved what was described as a “harsh resolution” condemning Heitkamp saying she was “disrespectful to the people of our great state” for supporting presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.
Also in November of 2015 certain Democrats, including former state party chairman Bob Valeu, were telling the media that they didn’t think Heitkamp’s voting record was far enough to the left
It seems that resentment for Senator Heitkamp among some factions of Demcorats still simmers.
I sent a request for comment to Senator Heitkamp’s staff. They have never responded to any of my previous requests for comments or interviews with the Senator, but if they do this time for some reason I’ll of course update this post.
But the divides in the party are about more than Senator Heitkamp. There are also sharp divides on policy, my sources tell me.
“It’s an east versus west, urban versus rural thing,” one said.
“A number of districts wanted an economic message coming out of the party,” my source continued, adding that there was also a desire to communicate to voters that “not all Democrats are against oil.”
“They were completely ignored,” my source said, adding that he wasn’t sure what the message for the party would be in 2018 but added that it “damn sure won’t be rural friendly.”
“They were completely ignored,” my source said.
Saying that some are calling the party the “Democrats of the Red River Valley,” my source added that “some people are talking seriously about splitting from the party and reforming the NPL.”
That would be the Nonpartisan League part of the Democratic-NPL, the history of which you can brush up on here.
My sources pointed to a Facebook event created for a “New NPL Caucus Meeting” scheduled for July. One of my sources described that as a “organization meeting” for the NPL, though the event page itself seems to describe the effort as a caucus within the Democratic party itself.
The event page does say this new caucus was created on April 8, the same day as the Democratic party’s reorganization in Bismarck.
These factions do not come at an opportune time for Democrats. While they don’t have much ground left to lose in elections, they do have a pretty good shot at holding the U.S. Senate seat with Heitkamp.
But one of my sources says some districts in the state are, at least for, saying they’ll sit the election cycle out.
“Off year districts have vowed to just sit it out,” I’m told, though my source acknowledged that this attitude could change once the election season begins in earnest.
Still, with Heitkamp facing a tough re-election fight, and Democrats reeling from losses to Republicans over multiple cycles, now is hardly a time when Democrats can afford division.