Back before I went on vacation I participated in a policy summit put on by the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce in Bismarck. The panel discussion I participated in was about state finances, but another discussion at the event caught my eye. It was the one about the state of ND politics between the leadership of the state Republican and Democrat parties.
And what caught my eye about that discussion was Democrat Party Chairman Bob Valeu’s answer to a question I asked from the audience (audience members were allowed to text in comments and questions for the panelists) about the difficult his party has had in finding candidates in western North Dakota.
This is a key question for this election cycle, I think. The cornerstone of the Democrat argument this cycle is that Republicans haven’t handled the impacts of the oil boom responsibly. Democrats argue that the Republican majority (both houses of the Legislature and every single statewide office) has been far too friendly with the oil industry at the expense of the average citizen.
But are Democrats getting any traction with that argument when it was a heavy lift for them to find candidates in the western part of the state where oil impacts are the heaviest? Not a single one of the Democrats’ statewide candidates is from western North Dakota, and it wasn’t until 10 days before the filing deadline that Democrats found any Legislative candidates from western districts.
So I wanted to hear Valeu answer the question. How can Democrats campaign on western North Dakota without any really serious candidates from western North Dakota?
Valeu’s answer was unintentionally illuminating in that he didn’t really have a good answer for it. He made some noises about how candidates are afraid to run as Democrats because of a supposedly thuggish Republican majority, but that got laughs from the audience.
The more probable answer is that while North Dakota’s oil boom has presented challenges, voters simply don’t trust Democrats to address those challenges in a common sense way.