Infighting likely to erupt at North Dakota GOP convention
A group of ultra-conservative Republican delegates is likely to challenge the rules that govern the convention and the party’s operations, setting up a procedural showdown that could turn into a shouting match.
BISMARCK — North Dakota Republicans will hold their state convention in Bismarck this weekend, but ideological divisions and quarrels over rules and procedure appear likely to define the event meant to unite like-minded partisans.
Party delegates, expected to number around 2,000, will vote on Saturday, April 2, to endorse candidates in eight statewide races, but all eyes are on the U.S. Senate contest between incumbent John Hoeven and state Rep. Rick Becker.
The race between Hoeven and Becker mirrors the increasingly apparent split within the party.
Hoeven, a former governor, is often seen as a moderate Republican amongst his colleagues in Washington. Becker is the founder of the Bastiat Caucus, an unofficial libertarian-leaning faction of GOP state lawmakers that often clashes with fellow party members.
But before either candidate takes the stage to stump for his cause, adherents of Becker’s brand of conservatism are likely to challenge the rules that govern the convention and the party’s operations, setting up a procedural showdown that could turn into a shouting match.
District 38 GOP Chairman Jared Hendrix, a Becker supporter, told Forum News Service his group intends to bring forth a detailed proposal to overhaul the party’s established rules.
Party Chairman Perrie Schafer said the time has passed to suggest rule changes, and delegates will be deemed “out of order” if they try to alter rules on the convention floor.
Hendrix said many Republicans, including those who have recently become politically active, want a more inclusive party with rules generated by the masses of delegates rather than a few powerful gatekeepers.
One of the proposed rule changes would give the delegates at a state convention the authority to directly nominate candidates for the general election, eliminating the need for a statewide GOP primary election. Hendrix said the state government of North Dakota has improperly intervened in what should be a party matter by administering the partisan primaries.
Currently, statewide candidates can move forward to the June primary election without a party endorsement if they turn in 300 signed petitions to the Secretary of State's Office.
Hendrix said the proposed rule change wouldn’t necessarily get rid of the primary election overnight, but it would create a legal basis for delegates to carry out the business of their private organization.
Secretary of State Al Jaeger said primary elections are solidified in state law, and a political party altering its internal rules wouldn’t eliminate the primaries — only a change in state law could do that.
Schafer said proposed changes to permanent rules have to be noticed 15 days in advance and approved by the party’s Rules and State committees. Since those criteria weren’t met, Hendrix’s “rogue” proposal is invalid and won’t be up for consideration Saturday, Schafer said.
The GOP State Committee, consisting of party leaders and district chairpeople, adopted rules for the convention at a December meeting that Hendrix and seven other committee members walked out of in protest, Schafer noted. That meeting would have been the right venue to bring forward proposals for changing party rules, he said.
When asked if the convention will be uncommonly chaotic, Schafer said, “It’s my hope that the individuals coming are coming as adults and will act like they tell their children to act.”
“They can scream and yell all they want, but we are a party of rules,” Schafer said. “I hope people understand that rules are made to be followed. There’s a process to change the rules that was not followed (by Hendrix’s group).”
Hendrix countered, saying, “there’s nothing disruptive about people standing up for their rights.”
Whenever delegates actually vote to endorse Hoeven or Becker, the result could have major implications.
Becker told Forum News Service last week he will end his campaign if he fails to secure the party endorsement. A spokeswoman for Hoeven’s campaign declined to comment on whether Hoeven would go on to the June primary election if he fails to secure the delegates’ blessing. Hoeven recently got an endorsement from former President Donald Trump.
Republican candidates in the other seven races are unopposed at the convention and will likely receive the party's endorsement. They include Kelly Armstrong for U.S. House of Representatives, Drew Wrigley for attorney general, Brian Kroshus for tax commissioner, Doug Goehring for agriculture commissioner, Michael Howe for secretary of state and Julie Fedorchak and Sheri Haugen-Hoffart for Public Service Commission.
The party holds every statewide and congressional office in addition to 85% of the seats in the state Legislature.