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Ryan Johnson, Forum Communications Co., Published March 22 2010

Cramer gets endorsement in PSC race at North Dakota GOP convention

Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer received a Republican endorsement during the state convention in Grand Forks on Sunday, but it wasn’t for the office he has campaigned for the past few months.

In a somewhat unexpected convention development, about 800 delegates passed a unanimous ballot that made Cramer the endorsed candidate for a spot on the three-member Public Service Commission – a spot he has held since being appointed by Gov. John Hoeven in 2003.

The event stood out because it came just a day after Cramer lost his endorsement bid to get the party backing for a U.S. House of Representatives run against nine-term incumbent Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D.

Delegates on Saturday instead chose state Rep. Rick Berg, R-Fargo, as the endorsed House candidate. Cramer had focused on campaigning for the House endorsement for the last few months and had said he would not seek re-election to the Public Service Commission this year.

State Rep. Kim Koppelman, R-West Fargo, nominated Cramer for the Public Service Commission endorsement, pointing out Cramer has said he ­wouldn’t run for re-election to the office.

“That’s true, and he’s honored his word,” he said. “He has not asked for our endorsement.”

But Koppelman said it’s necessary for Cramer to get re-elected and keep his seat on the commission that could otherwise go to Brad Crabtree, a Kulm, N.D., rancher who is seeking the Democratic endorsement for the office.

Two other supporters seconded the endorsement nomination, saying it’s essential for Cramer to stay in Bismarck with the commission.

In an acceptance speech, Cramer said he’s “blessed beyond belief” to have received the endorsement. Politicians from North Dakota often take credit for being energy leaders, he said, but they’re just acting on behalf of the people and businesses.

“The reality is as your politicians, we just represent the culture that you create for us,” Cramer said.

He said his re-election bid will be important because Democrats will endorse Crabtree on March 26-27 at their state convention, labeling Crabtree as the “scariest left-wing” activist that lives in North Dakota.

Cramer clarified his statements about Crabtree, telling reporters he’s “the most left-wing, extreme environmentalist I know” because he supports things like renewable energy portfolios and cap-and-trade legislation that would “devastate the economy” of the state.

Cramer did consider “other opportunities” instead of seeking re-election to the Public Service Commission but said he ultimately decided his life was in public service and ensuring the state’s continuing energy development and industry growth.

Still, the endorsement wasn’t a surprise to Cramer, who discussed the matter Saturday with state Sen. Bob Stenehjem, R-Bismarck, who was planning to run for the commission.

“I let him know if the sentiment was this strong that I was inclined to accept that, and so I wanted to honor that of course,” he said.

But Cramer denied having any involvement with lining up the three speakers who nominated him for the endorsement, a requirement before delegates can approve the motion.

“I did not organize it in any way, shape or form or even encourage it,” he said.

Cramer said he expects a tough race with Crabtree, who is “quite plugged into some national left-wing groups that have a lot of money.” He said he will begin efforts next week to raise the money needed to win.

“He is articulate and he can present a more moderate position than he actually holds, which is often times the gift of a liberal,” Cramer said. “He’s been around a long time; he knows energy issues, so I don’t take him lightly at all.”


Johnson is a reporter for the Grand Forks Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.