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Published February 06 2010

Potter seeks more civility in politics

The first declared Democratic candidate in North Dakota’s U.S. Senate race pledged to be a true, “independent voice” for voters if nominated and elected to the federal seat.

State Sen. Tracy Potter of Bismarck said he wants to “raise the level of civility in politics … (and) do what I can to lower the level of anger and disharmony that exists in our political system these days.”

“We can disagree without being disagreeable,” Potter said.

A self-proclaimed libertarian Democrat, Potter said he represents a populist viewpoint and acknowledged that his own political style is “frank and outspoken.”

“I seldom suffer silently, and what you see is what you get,” he said. “I’m not afraid to speak up in a room full of people who disagree with me.”

The 59-year-old lifelong political activist is now making his third bid for elected office.

Potter vied unsuccessfully in 1984 against now-U.S. Rep. Earl Pomeroy for the Democratic-NPL Party nomination for state insurance commissioner.

When announcing his Senate intentions Friday morning in Fargo, Potter stressed that his first priority is to earn the Democratic-NPL Party’s endorsement in March before setting his sights on the November election.

Party officials expect more candidates to declare for the race once Heidi Heitkamp, former North Dakota attorney general, decides on a possible bid.

Potter’s candidacy pits him as the only Democrat so far against Republicans Gov. John Hoeven and Paul Sorum, a Fargo architect and business consultant.

Potter was quick to distinguish himself and criticize Hoeven, who’s widely seen as the GOP favorite.

“Gov. Hoeven gained his popularity, I believe, by having Republican on his name but governing much as a Democrat,” Potter said, echoing party leaders’ remarks. “But the day he announced for Senate, he took a hard-right turn.”

“What I see there is really a person who reflects the colors of where he is, of his environment,” Potter continued. “And I’m afraid he’s going from blue to red, just like a chameleon.”

Hoeven campaign spokesman Don Larson said the Republican governor has proven appeal across party lines and called Potter’s comments “just the first of what I assume are going to be many negative attacks from that side.”

“The governor is focused on what he’s done and what he’s going to do in office,” Larson said, adding that Potter’s candidacy doesn’t change Hoeven’s campaign. “We’re going to make this a positive campaign about the issues.”

State Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, has worked with Potter since the Bismarck native joined the Legislature in 2007, and he was among about 25 supporters who gathered to support Potter’s announcement in downtown Fargo.

Mathern praised Potter for having the courage to be the first Democrat to step forward in the race.

“(Potter is) someone who has experience, someone who has been involved in the political life of this state for his entire life, someone who is one of us regular North Dakotans,” Mathern said.


Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541