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GOP grows supermajority in North Dakota Legislature; Dems have 'collapsed completely'

Going into next year's legislative session, Republicans will hold an 82-12 advantage over Democrats in the North Dakota House of Representatives and a 43-4 majority in the North Dakota Senate, according to unofficial results.

The North Dakota House of Representatives meets in the state Capitol on Feb. 11, 2021.
The North Dakota House of Representatives meets in the state Capitol on Feb. 11, 2021.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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BISMARCK — The North Dakota Republican Party stiffened its already firm grip on power in the state Legislature, picking up a handful of seats in recently redrawn districts during the Tuesday, Nov. 8 election.

Going into next year's legislative session, Republicans will hold an 82-12 advantage over Democrats in the House of Representatives and a 43-4 majority in the Senate, according to unofficial results.

The Democratic-NPL lost two seats in the House and three seats in the Senate, dealing another blow to a party that has progressively ceded influence in the statehouse over the last three decades.

North Dakota GOP Chairman Perrie Schafer said the legislative gains along with top-of-ticket wins for the congressional delegation amounted to a "red wave" in the state. Republicans have their work cut out for them as the dominant drivers of the Legislature, and they won't get arrogant or complacent despite receiving the voters' overwhelming approval, he said.

On the other side of the aisle, Democratic-NPL Chairman Pat Hart said midterm elections are generally rough for members of the president's party, and the defeats locally could have been worse. Hart said he was heartbroken to lose several incumbents within his party.

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North Dakota Democratic-NPL Chairman Patrick Hart speaks at the party's state convention in Minot on March 26, 2022.
Kyle Martin / The Forum

Eight incumbents — six Democrats and two Republicans — appeared to lose their seats on Tuesday, including Fargo Democratic Rep. Ruth Buffalo and Grand Forks Democratic Sen. JoNell Bakke. A recount will determine which Grand Forks Democrat — Rep. Zac Ista or Rep. Mary Adams — continues serving. Ista received three more votes according to unofficial results.

Local Republicans will need to replace Rep. Michael Howe, a Casselton Republican, who resigned Wednesday after being elected secretary of state.

The Republican gains on Tuesday are unsurprising given that the Democratic-NPL has "collapsed completely" as a party, said University of North Dakota political science professor Mark Jendrysik. The minority party failed to field candidates in districts across the state — even in some historically contested urban areas like Grand Forks, he noted.

With their small minority further shrunken, the Democrats "are utterly irrelevant to the legislative process in North Dakota," Jendrysik said. The party has to rebuild from the ground up to be competitive in the future, he added.

The professor said the one-party supremacy in the state is unfortunate because there's very little competition or accountability for Republicans. He noted that voter turnout on Tuesday likely suffered because of the massive gulf between the parties.

Hart said the GOP-led redistricting process that took place last year created a challenging electoral map for his party. Some urban incumbents lost chunks of their reliable Democratic base, while Senate Majority Leader Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, wasn't given a chance to defend her seat after being placed in another district. Hart called that "gerrymandering at its worst."

The Republicans' gerrymandering definitely helped conservative candidates, though targeting the few remaining Democratic lawmakers is like "kicking a dead horse," Jendrysik said.

Jendrysik noted that the GOP's stranglehold on legislative power will likely lead to more infighting since there's no "common enemy" in the Democrats.

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North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Perrie Schafer speaks during an election party in Bismarck on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.
North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Perrie Schafer speaks during an election night party in Bismarck on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2022.
Kyle Martin / Forum News Service

Schafer acknowledged there will be some division among conservative lawmakers, but he said having productive communication is the first step in resolving internal issues. Schafer added that voters who strayed from the GOP to vote for independent U.S. Senate candidate Rick Becker are "welcome back if they want to remain Republican."

The House and Senate Republican caucuses will elect new leadership on Nov. 14, Schafer said. House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, are both retiring later this year.

Jeremy Turley is a Bismarck-based reporter for Forum News Service, which provides news coverage to publications owned by Forum Communications Company.
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