On Television: Heidi Heitkamp Should Be More Like Kevin Cramer


Valley News Live – KVLY/KXJB – Fargo/Grand Forks

I was on television last night – Chris Berg’s 6:30 Point of View show on Valley News Live – and we talked about Senator Heidi Heitkamp’s media strategy and higher education.

Berg is still having problems getting Heitkamp on his program (watch his monologue on that issue here), and I think the reason for that is obvious. Heitkamp isn’t going to go into a venue where she might expect some tough of inconvenient questions. And she uses bullying tactics, and threats of cutting off access, to keep questioners in line.

It still amazes me that Heitkamp has gotten away without giving specifics on where she donated her shutdown salary, even after her political party attacked Rep. Kevin Cramer for not donating his salary. I’ve asked the question more than once, but Heitkamp and her people don’t respond to me. But what’s stopping another reporter in the state from asking the question? Heitkamp and her political party made it an issue, so why not make sure her deeds followed her words?

Berg himself has experienced Heitkamp’s wrath, with the Senator’s Chief of Staff Tessa Gould calling Valley News Live to inform them that Heitkamp won’t be appearing with Berg any more. It reminds me of Heitkamp’s predecessor, former Senator Kent Conrad, years ago threatening to pull ad dollars from the Minot Daily News after they reported that he stormed out of a town hall event in Mohall.

These sort of attempts to use media access to control the media narrative are far more common than anyone in the North Dakota media would like to admit, I’m afraid.

My advice for Heitkamp, on the show, was to be more like Rep. Kevin Cramer who has set a high water mark for openness to the media and public alike in his first year in office. Heitkamp could even take a lesson from Senator John Hoeven. While he’s not as good about holding town halls and such, my experience (as someone who has been very critical of him at times) has been that he honors reasonable requests for interviews and access. I’ve never had a problem getting an answer to a question from Senator Hoeven’s office, or scheduling him for an interview, aside from the usual scheduling restraints.

We also discussed NDSU President Dean Bresciani’s recent column announcing a series of op/ed’s to dissuade all us simpletons from our foolish notions about higher education. I think Bresciani is hoping to muddy the waters on what is really a very simple problem.

The cost of higher education has exploded for both taxpayers and students. This has not resulted in a better education for students – indeed, they’re finding that in this economy their degrees are worth less than in years past – but has resulted in gleaming campuses, administrative bloat, and soaring pay and benefits for the upper crust of campus administration.