Bryan Horwath, Forum News Service, Published March 21 2014
Western ND Democrats nearly silent ahead of primary deadlineDICKINSON, N.D. – Republicans dominate the political landscape in western North Dakota. Nonetheless, the Democratic-NPL Party is trying to make inroads during legislative elections this fall.
But before Democrats can win any elections west of the Missouri River, they need to have candidates.
And not just viable candidates. Any candidate will do.
The filing deadline of April 7 is looming for primary candidates running in odd-numbered North Dakota legislative districts – such as District 37 and District 39 – and barely a peep has been made by any willing Democrat.
“We still have two and a half weeks from the filing deadline, and I think we’ll have a candidate in every race across the state,” said Chad Oban, North Dakota Democratic-NPL executive director. “When people look at who they’re going to vote for in November, they don’t really remember if a candidate announced in January or if it was in March or April. I think we’re going to be competitive in some strange places where Democrats normally aren’t competitive.”
Though the state has been reaping the rewards of oil tax benefits and an almost nonexistent rate of unemployment thanks to the Bakken energy play, Oban said many are voicing concern over how North Dakota’s leadership is handling its prosperity, especially in the Oil Patch.
District 37 represents most but not all of the city of Dickinson. District 39 legislators represent all of Adams, Billings, Bowman, Golden Valley, McKenzie and Slope counties, as well as northwest Dunn County.
“The fact is, it’s Democrats who want to do right by the folks most affected by the oil boom,” Oban said. “I think some folks in western North Dakota are starting to recognize that. The Williston Herald editorialized a couple of weeks ago, asking where their legislators are in asking for a special session and standing up for the needs in western North Dakota. If I lived in Watford City or Dickinson or Williston, I’d be super-concerned that (Rep.) Al Carlson in Fargo is making decisions about the future of my community.”
In February, Sen. Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, and Rep. Kenton Onstad, D-Parshall, sent a letter to Gov. Jack Dalrymple, a Republican, asking for a special session to address the financial and infrastructure needs of certain areas being hit the hardest by the oil boom.
Dalrymple has stated publicly that he plans to decide whether to call a special session sometime next month, though political insiders think the chances of him calling one are slim.
During a meeting of representatives from the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties on Wednesday in Dickinson, some members – while expressing frustration over a stated lack of funding for Oil Patch communities – wondered aloud whether a political alignment with Democrats on the special session issue could backfire in the Republican-dominated west.
“Everybody in North Dakota is happy about what’s going on with the Bakken and what it’s bringing to our communities in western North Dakota,” Oban said. “But I think there’s growing concern out there about how this is all being handled. There’s been a real lack of leadership about dealing with this on the front end. If I’m a city commissioner or mayor, I’m frustrated because I don’t know what kind of funding I’m going to get past this biennium because of the sunset clause.”
Lack of Democratic candidates
Republican Sen. Rich Wardner, the Senate majority leader, isn’t expected to face much competition in District 37. Wardner said Friday he would wait to talk about any Democratic candidates until after they’re announced.
“I’m an old basketball coach, and I know there’s nothing to be said until the final buzzer blows,” Wardner said. “We don’t know, (the Democrats) might have candidates lined up and ready to go on April 7. Until then, I don’t have much to say. I do know this – a lot of times, people don’t make up their mind until the last minute.”
Regardless of who the Democrats send to the primary arena, North Dakota GOP Executive Director Jason Flohrs said in an email Friday that his troops will be ready.
“There is a lack of candidates on the Democrats’ side because they know this is a tough cycle for them to run in,” Flohrs wrote. “The President’s poll numbers are sagging due to a disastrous roll out of Obamacare and an economy held back by suffocating over-regulation. Democrats in North Dakota have to run against incumbent Republicans who have done a good job managing the state during a period of intense development. Over 80 percent of people think the state is going in the right direction, a feeling which will certainly carry over to the ballot box this November.”
Mandy Kubik, the District 37 chair for the Democrats, stated in an email Friday that supporters shouldn’t fret about a lack of candidates as the April deadline approaches.
“The Democratic-NPL has top-notch candidates lined up to run in western North Dakota,” Kubik stated. “Putting your name on a ballot and running is no easy thing, especially in our part-time citizen Legislature. Arrangements must be made for work, family, farm, ranch, church and other commitments before a campaign is launched. Stay tuned as our candidates make announcements in the coming weeks.”
Kubik stated that she hopes Dalrymple will call for the requested special session and alluded to Wardner not stepping up to help make that happen.
“When Dickinson’s state senator is the Senate majority leader, you would think more would be getting done for his hometown,” Kubik stated. “There is a chronic failure of leadership in Bismarck and every legislative session seems to be more about putting Band-Aids on problems that occurred between sessions instead of getting ahead of the challenges that face our communities. There is incredible opportunity accompanying this oil boom, but with it comes a responsibility to ensure the safety and security of our citizens.”