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Port: Some North Dakota Democrats want to rescind support for pro-life U.S. House candidate

After a list of "where as" statements, the resolution states that "the Policy Committee of the North Dakota Democratic-Non Partisan League Party will no longer support the ongoing candidacy of Mark Haugen for U.S. House of Representatives."

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Mark Haugen, a student advisor at the University of Mary in Bismarck, announces his candidacy for U.S. House of Representatives at the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party's state convention in Minot on Saturday, March 26, 2022.
Kyle Martin / The Forum
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MINOT, N.D. — The Supreme Court opinion overturning legal precedent finding a right to abortion in the U.S. Constitution has made the abortion issue, in our nation's political arenas, more urgent than it's been in at least a couple of generations.

The reaction from the Democratic-NPL to the decision was a strong one. Party chairman Patrick Hart used words like "evil" and "vile" to describe it. Yet, in the spring of this year, well before the Supreme Court ruled, Hart presided over his party's state convention where pro-life Democrat Mark Haugen's candidacy for the U.S. House was endorsed.

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

Haugen told me back in May that he supports the Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade, and he also supports North Dakota's trigger law, which will ban nearly all abortions in the state when it takes effect. He has since won the party's nomination on the June primary ballot, where he ran unopposed, but some Democrats now want the party to pull its support.

A resolution being circulated by Patrick Englehardt, chairman of the District 7 Democratic-NPL, calls on the party to pull support from Haugen's candidacy. At this point in the election cycle, Democrats can't replace Haugen on the ballot. That die is cast. But the resolution doesn't call for that. Instead, it asks that the party hang Haugen out to dry.

After a list of "where as" statements, the resolution states that "the Policy Committee of the North Dakota Democratic-Non Partisan League Party will no longer support the ongoing candidacy of Mark Haugen for U.S. House of Representatives."

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It further states resolves that "the Policy Committee of the North Dakota Democratic-Non Partisan League Party directs the Executive Committee of the North Dakota Democratic-Non Partisan League Party, all Party officers, and all employees of the North Dakota Democratic-Non Partisan League Party to immediately cease any and all efforts, other than those of a personal nature, to assist Mark Haugen with his candidacy."

The resolution is expected to be considered at a meeting of the Democratic-NPL's policy committee, which is scheduled to take place this evening at 6:30pm.

The Democratic-NPL's policy committee features two representatives from each of the state's legislative districts. The executive committee is smaller and made up of party leaders, including the chairman.

Mr. Englehardt refused to discuss the resolution with me. "I'm not going to comment to you. I'm not a big fan of yours," he told me when reached by phone before hanging up.

"I don't have a comment on it because I want to reserve until tonight's policy committee meeting," Haugen told me when I reached him for comment. "I plan to listen in and see what the comments are. I don't know what to think about it right now."

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The Democratic-NPL Party endorsed a handful of candidates for statewide office on Saturday, March 26, 2022, including (from left) Mark Haugen for U.S. House and Finton Dooley for agriculture commissioner.
Kyle Martin / The Forum

Haugen has been gracious in the face of tough language coming from his party. "Pat's a good friend of mine," he said in a podcast interview with me last month , referring to party chairman Patrick Hart, and adding that they'd discussed the matter. He also said in that interview that he realizes that pro-life Democrats are a minority in the party, but "that's Democracy."

"I have to work hard at explaining my position," he said.

Hart told me that the resolution will be heard by the party's policy committee today, but that they aren't likely to act immediately. "Typically when items such as this are introduced to the policy committee, much like in the legislature, there would be a first reading and then a second reading," he said. "We were thinking about having a policy committee meeting at a fundraiser in October. That would put a second reading on the record just 15 days before the election."

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That timeline would obviously render the intent of the resolution nearly moot, but Hart said he didn't think the resolution would have a lot of support. "I think I have a pretty good idea on how this conversation is going to play out, but anything can happen," he said. "I think Mark definitely has the support of the party and the delegates."

Haugen's pro-life position was hardly a secret in Democratic-NPL circles. I was in the room at the party's state convention in Minot when he was endorsed, and it was widely talked about among delegates. Hart himself acknowledged this, noting that Haugen has been a leader in the party for a long time. "Mark hasn't hid the fact that he's pro-life. He ran for state treasurer. He was the party's treasurer for some time. Mark's been chairs of districts. He's been on the state platform committee."

A source in the Democratic-NPL who provided me with the draft resolution said he was surprised by it.

MORE FROM ROB PORT
I'm just not seeing a constituency of North Dakota voters that Mund could appeal to that's large enough to lead her to victory. But, again, that's assuming that she's running to win, and not as a way to keep her celebrity alive post-Miss America.
Now that Roe v. Wade is no more, and the democratic process has engaged, we're going to be learning a lot about how Americans feel about abortion. I think we're going to find out that they are not nearly so pro-life or pro-choice as we've been led to believe.
Democrats haven't given up on America. Republicans don't want people to be miserable or dead. Most Americans, whatever their politics, have universal goals, mostly concerning peace and prosperity, and only differ on the paths we ought to take to get there. All we have to do, to make things better in America, is stop listening to the people who say otherwise.

"If the party members didn't know his stance on abortion prior to the convention, they didn't know Mark," he told me, speaking on condition of anonymity. "That he would stand by that conviction in the face of overwhelming odds further strengthens my support for him. I know that I am not the only one in the party that supports him."

Pro-life positions aren't even all that unusual in the Democratic-NPL. North Dakota's trigger law, which will take effect thanks to the Supreme Court's opinion, was introduced in 2007 by two members of the Democratic-NPL.

There were 14 Democratic lawmakers who voted for that bill in the state House , and nine in the state Senate. Among those voting for it are several past candidates for statewide offices like governor and agriculture commissioner, as well as Sen. Joan Heckaman, who is the current senate minority leader.

If it weren't for this support from Democrats, North Dakota might not have a trigger law. But today, at least some Democrats cannot abide supporting a candidate who is pro-life.

Still, Hart says he sees a distinction between Haugen's stance on abortion and that of Republican incumbent Rep. Kelly Armstrong.

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"If we look at Mark and we look at his opponent, there's a lot of stark differences. Mark's not a 'hard no,'" Hart told me. "He supports rape and incest exemptions. He supports exemptions in any situation where the health of the mother is at risk. He does not support any punishments for people providing abortions. Mark really supports increases in support for families and children to really ensure quality for the duration of life."

Opinion by Rob Port
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 rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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