Port: Heitkamp may just be the wrong color woman

The politics of identity are an awful thing.

Heidi Heitkamp, a former U.S. senator for North Dakota, speaks Thursday, Oct. 29, at Koester Farms in Glyndon, Minn. Alyssa Goelzer / The Forum

MINOT, N.D. — Heidi Heitkamp is a finalist to be Joe Biden's Secretary of Agriculture.

I say this as someone who has a dim view of Heitkamp's politics and leadership qualities, generally, but she's probably about the best North Dakotans and conservatives could hope for when it comes to the people Biden could choose to surround himself with.

The problem is, Heitkamp might not get the job, and if she doesn't, it will likely have more to do with her skin color than her qualifications.

An ironic outcome for Heitkamp, given how often she's tried to lean on race issues to bolster her political career. You, of course, will remember Heitkamp's decision, during her ultimately unsuccessful 2018 Senate campaign, to portray North Dakota as a racist state out to suppress the vote in Native American communities.

This was bunk — turnout in those communities ultimately set records that year — but Heitkamp didn't need it to be true so much as she needed a narrative she could leverage to get her base to the polls.


It was rank identity politics, and now Heitkamp, who has had no qualms about using divisive tactics based on things like race or gender, may see her career's swang song canceled by the same.

The other finalist for Secretary of Agriculture is Rep. Marcia Fudge, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus who represents an urban district in Ohio. If Fudge is appointed, she would be "the first urban-centered politician to lead the agency, as well as the first Black woman to take its reins," Mother Jones reports .

The progressive wing of the national Democratic party wants a Fudge appointment. She's far more left-wing than Heitkamp, and she's Black.

Yes, that last fact matters.

It shouldn't, but it does.

Please don't take my word for it.

Here's Fudge, speaking to Politico : “When you look at what African-American women did in particular in this election, you will see that a major part of the reason that this Biden-Harris team won was because of African-American women."

Black women voted for Joe Biden; ergo, Biden should choose Fudge, a Black woman, as Secretary of Agriculture.


Fudge's case is also rooted in her resume as an elected official and some other things, but make no mistake that if the job goes to her, identity will have been a major consideration.

Which would be terrible for Heitkamp, no? To lose a job because she's a woman of the wrong color?

Some of you reading this will be inclined to accuse me of being unfair to Fudge, but that's the other side of the blade of identity politics. It's not just unfair to people with unfavored racial backgrounds, but it belittles the accomplishments of those who are favored.

This is what we've been trying to tell you, Democrats.

The politics of identity are an awful thing.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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