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Port: We don't need more angry people in Washington

Rage is what many voters seem to want. We should want contemplative leaders. Thoughtful officials who are capable of compromise and collaboration. But often it's the furious ones who get the attention.

U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C.
The Capitol dome is seen at sunset on Election Day, in Washington, Nov. 6, 2018.
(Sarah Silbiger/Copyright 2018 The New York Times)
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MINOT, N.D. — This last week the three candidates for the U.S. Senate — incumbent Republican John Hoeven, Democrat Katrina Christiansen, and former Republican Rick Becker — performed in two debates.

I moderated one, on my Plain Talk podcast, along with former Democratic-NPL executive director Chad Oban; Prairie Public hosted the other.

Both events were disgraceful spectacles of crimination, recrimination, and almost shouted verbal jeremiads. Each candidate holds a distinct view on how best to serve North Dakota, and the nation, in the Senate, but the overarching theme of the debates was anger.

Becker seethed. Christiansen fumed. Hoeven, the unifying target of his two challengers, fired back.

It has made this competition seem like a race to the bottom.

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To be fair to the candidates, they're reacting to inputs. Rage is what many voters seem to want. We should want contemplative leaders. Thoughtful officials who are capable of compromise and collaboration. But often it's the furious ones who get the attention.

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That actually came up during the debate I moderated, and Becker sneered at the idea, and when he does that he's serving a well-defined constituency. This spring, when Becker was campaigning unsuccessfully for the NDGOP's endorsement, he enjoyed the roaring support of a crowd in Tioga that, per local reports, literally booed the concept of statesmanship .

This attitude is present in the U.S. House race too, where de facto Democratic-NPL candidate Cara Mund, who is taking on Republican incumbent Kelly Armstrong, has prosecuted her campaign as though she, an Ivy League graduate and former Miss America, is the unlikely victim of some grievous injustice and ought to be elected to Congress as reparation.

We Americans are living through tumultuous times. There is a social and political upheaval afoot. Extremism is on the rise. The portents are dire.

Do we voters really want to pour more gas on that fire? Because that's what electing a Mund, or a Becker, or a Christiansen would do, I'm afraid.

North Dakota has calm, level-headed leaders, and I think the state ought to stick with them.

Hoeven, despite the fire he displayed during the recent debates, has a track record of moderate, centrist leadership that stretches back decades through his two terms in the Senate, and his two-and-a-half terms as governor.

Armstrong, meanwhile, hasn't been in office nearly as long, but has already developed a reputation for pragmatic leadership. He is "interested in simply representing North Dakota in general" and "doesn’t stick entirely with all Republicans on important issues," my employers at Forum Communications wrote in their editorial endorsing him for re-election.

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He voted to certify the 2020 election, despite pressure from right-wing extremists. He worked with Democrats on sentencing reform. He voted to codify protections for same-sex marriage.

We don't need congressional representation that will throw rhetorical bombs on cable news or add more snark to the fetid social media swamps.

We need a more enlightened sort of leadership.

From that perspective, the choices in these congressional races seem clear.

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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