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Published July 06 2013

Forum editorial: ND Democrats hopeful, energized

Most long-time observers of North Dakota’s political scene would conclude the state’s red is so deep that even a shift to purple is unlikely. They might want to reconsider. Democrats are coming to life – displaying energy and hope not seen in years – in large part a response to Republican overreach.

One of the mistakes political parties in power make is assuming they will keep a grip on power forever. North Dakota Republicans, who own every statewide office, both houses of the Legislature, the governor’s office and two-thirds of the congressional delegation, have good cause to be satisfied with their success at the polls. They have put forth candidates of substance and championed public policies North Dakotans seem to like.

But, they have taken credit (not entirely justified) for the state’s unprecedented economic strength, which has been fueled primarily by farm commodities and energy development – two macro-economic factors over which state policy has minimal influence. Commodity prices have been at all-time highs because of global demand; oil prices remain near $100 a barrel, and oil development is driven primarily by price and technology, like hydraulic fracturing.

Republicans are showing signs of resting on their laurels. But hidden in the laurels are a few ever-sharper thorns. The comfortable majority should pay attention and be careful where they sit.

Democrats are energized not only by having been beat down for so long but also by perceived Republican arrogance behind recent legislation, a sentiment shared by North Dakotans who might not be aligned with either party. It ranges from the monumentally stupid University of North Dakota Sioux logo fight to passing quixotic anti-abortion bills that will be struck down by the courts and cost North Dakota taxpayers millions of dollars in legal fees. It includes the symbolic stumble over milk money for school kids; the foolish exercise regarding funding for Fargo flood control; the simmering anger in oil country because folks there believe they were shortchanged in their struggles to deal with the oil boom; the leadership scheme to shut out Democrats from interim committee chairmanships, a stunt that offends North Dakotans’ sense of fairness.

By and large, Republicans have done a good job in the context of good times. Nonetheless, the signs of overreach – bullying, some would conclude – suggest the arrogance of power is clouding their vision. That’s a mistake because this time around – by virtue of eyebrow-raising Republican priorities – the Democrats will have a potent message for voters. Now all Democrats need are good state and local candidates. But that’s a tall order. The Democrats’ bench isn’t empty, but it’s pretty thin.


Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.