Second Bismarck senator announces retirement, citing 'extreme rhetoric and divisiveness'

Oban's retirement announcement comes just a week after Bismarck Republican Sen. Nicole Poolman told colleagues she would not run again, citing "toxic times" and diminishing civility in politics.

Sen. Erin Oban, D-Bismarck, speaks at a bill signing on Friday, April 23, 2021, as House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, looks on. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

BISMARCK — North Dakota Sen. Erin Oban, D-Bismarck, announced on Thursday, Nov. 18, she will not run for reelection in 2022, saying she has become disheartened by the political extremism that has overtaken the statehouse.

Oban, the only Democratic lawmaker elected in the western half of the state, said she watched the North Dakota Legislature increasingly take its cues from the national political arena, where productive debate and lawmaking has fallen by the wayside.

"It's obvious that the extreme rhetoric and divisiveness of the national scene has seeped into our state," Oban said in a three-page statement. "The depth of our debates has diminished. The issues we argue are, oftentimes, inconsequential. Logic and reason are being replaced by conspiracy and posturing, and my patience for it in general, but especially within those beautiful walls of the Senate, has worn thin."

Oban's retirement announcement comes just a week after Bismarck Republican Sen. Nicole Poolman told colleagues she would not run again, citing "toxic times" and diminishing civility in politics.


Sen. Nicole Poolman, R-Bismarck, announces to her Senate colleagues on Thursday, Nov. 11, she will not run for reelection in 2022. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

During last spring's legislative session, lawmakers had several heated exchanges over socially conservative legislation that occasionally turned into name-calling and disparaging comments.

In an unprecedented move, the House expelled former Dickinson Republican Rep. Luke Simons in March over allegations that he repeatedly harassed female lawmakers and staff.

Last week, Minot Republican Rep. Jeff Hoverson said during a House floor discussion of a redistricting plan he would "like to see some spine in our leadership" in reference to House Majority Leader Chet Pollert. Hoverson later apologized to Pollert.

In a fiery speech last week, Oban admonished her colleagues for their willingness to pass a bill banning the teaching of critical race theory in K-12 schools.

"(Critical race theory) is a red herring. It's the definition of culture wars, which most of us claim to hate, and it makes a mockery of our Century Code when we're willing to just let stuff in there because it's easier than having difficult conversations," Oban said.

Oban also recently served as a dissenting voice during debates over proposed restrictions on transgender athletes .


First elected in 2014, Oban recognized that she would have another uphill battle to win reelection as a Democrat in a "red city," but she said her decision to not run again had nothing to do with her prospect of winning next year. The assistant minority leader sat on the education and political subdivisions committees during the last legislative session.

The 39-year-old former math teacher has a young son and works as the director of community engagement at the Central Regional Education Association.

Oban told Forum News Service she does not have plans to run for a different public office in the near future.

Her fellow Democrats hope the end of her two terms in the Legislature won't mark her permanent retirement from public service.

Former U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said Oban "has the heart of a public servant, and I know her service to our state isn't yet in its final chapter."

House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, said Oban has been a strong advocate for public education and he's confident she will continue to "serve us all in many capacities."

Democratic-NPL Party Chairman Patrick Hart said Oban's passion was one of the reasons he became active with the party because she gave Bismarck-area Democrats "something to believe in."


"She leaves enormous shoes to fill," Hart said.

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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