Stenehjem Needs To Get Off This "11th Commandment" Thing

If you missed the fact that there was a gubernatorial debate over the weekend in Crosby, hosted by the North Dakota Newspaper Association, you weren’t alone. The event wasn’t very well publicized, nor was it made available in the form of an online or television feed.

Leave it to newspaper people to prioritize their access over the public’s. They just write about it for the rest of us, right?

Anyway, Mike Jacobs has a column about the debate today, and first let me address an inaccuracy. “North Dakota Republicans haven’t had a real contested primary since the state entered the media age, more than half a century ago,” write Jacobs.

That’s simply not true.

Just a couple of cycles ago, in 2012, the NDGOP had a hotly contested primary for the U.S. House between Brian Kalk and Kevin Cramer and while Kalk ultimately lost his 45 percent of the vote shows that it was a competitive race. And while they’re not primaries, Republicans routinely have competitive endorsement battles at their state conventions. There were three, for governor and auditor and superintendent, at the convention earlier this year.

In 2010 the battle for the House endorsement between Berg and Cramer was heated. Republican governors John Hoeven and Ed Schafer both won election to that position after pitched convention battles in 2000 and 1992, respectively.

This is hardly an exhaustive list, but you get the idea. If Jacobs is suggesting that Republicans are not used to their candidates competing with one another he’s wrong.

But on to another part of Jacobs’ account of the Crosby debate (emphasis mine), where he describes a moment when Wayne Stenehjem and Doug Burgum dropped the gloves (figuratively speaking):

But it was at the end of the debate that a real chill set it. Sorum quipped that “a hockey game broke out.” Candidates were told to ask each other questions, and a kind of shoot-out resulted.

Burgum began by asking Stenehjem, “What’s the experience that suggests you can solve budget problems?”

Stenehjem responded, asking Burgum, “Do you believe in Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment?” which is “Thou shalt not speak ill of another Republican.” Stenehjem demanded, “Are you willing to take your campaign on the high road?”

This is a silly argument from Stenehjem, who hasn’t faced a real electoral challenge since first getting elected Attorney General in 2000 over Glenn Pomeroy, and it’s not the first time he’s made it.

It needs to stop. Burgum has every right to be critical of Stenehjem.

Some of Burgum’s campaign tactics are certainly hardball. His ceaseless marketing campaign attempting to brand Stenehjem as an Obamacare supporter is a morsel of truth at the heart of a gross exaggeration. But this is the nature of politics, and Burgum can hardly be blamed for trying to catch the attention of the public given that he started this race far behind Stenehjem in terms of popularity and name recognition.

Stenehjem criticizing the fact that he’s being criticized is only going to make him come off as thin skinned to the public. Plus, it makes it seem like he’s trying to avoid the substance of the criticism, which also isn’t good.

It would behoove Stenehjem to take a page from Rep. Kevin Cramer’s playbook. The Congressman is well known for being welcoming of criticism, even as fires back on substance, something which has been at the heart of his electoral successes in recent years I think.

Rebut Burgum’s criticism, Mr. Stenehjem, but stop complaining about the fact that you’re being criticized.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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