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Zaleski: A strange political season

Columnist Jack Zaleski writes about the status of the Republican and Democratic Parties in North Dakota.

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InForum columnist Jack Zaleski is the former editor of The Forum's editorial page.
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Having observed North Dakota politics for more than 50 years, I think this year’s political season is one of the more interesting for party loyalists; and even for thoughtful folks who are not hobbled by partisan dogma. Republicans control state government, but the traditional party structure is showing cracks that, if left unattended, could become fractures. Democrats, who have been on the endangered species list for decades, might have an opening that could mean modest resurrection for the moribund party. A long shot, but possible.

In the GOP camp, a vacuous egotist is taking on popular U.S. Sen. John Hoeven. Bismarck Rep. Rick Becker, who promised he would abide by the party’s Hoeven endorsement, promptly scuttled his promise and petitioned to get on the November ballot to challenge the two-term senator and former three-term governor. Becker and his Bastiat outliers don’t count honor and honesty among their principles. They are so obtuse in their self-righteousness, they probably don’t believe Hoeven will bury Becker in a landslide.

Also problematic for Republicans is Republican Gov. Doug Burgum’s in-your-face campaign to purge the Legislature of Republican lawmakers who don’t embrace his agenda . Republicans, not Democrats. He’s had significant success knocking out incumbent Republicans by funding the campaigns of primary challengers. Burgum’s attempted purges have infuriated GOP legislators so much that a few of them intend to introduce bills in the 2023 session aimed at stopping the governor from interfering in legislative elections. Besides, many of them have never warmed to the rich guy from Fargo who thinks he’s the smartest kid in town.

The Democrats have a chance to become marginally relevant again because of the unorthodox run for the state’s lone seat in Congress by independent Cara Mund, who has emerged as a refreshing new voice in politics . She is not a Democrat, but Democrats are likely to support her after their endorsed candidate, Mark Haugen, was eased off the ballot because of his pro-life abortion stance, which is viewed as a liability among Democrats (and moderate Republicans) after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. Incumbent Rep. Kelly Armstrong (R) and Mund (I) will be the only names on the ballot for the U.S. House of Representatives.

A pro-choice conservative, Mund is a former Miss America and a Harvard Law School graduate. She’s articulate, intelligent, young and motivated, rare qualities among the state’s ruling political class. She had no other option than to sign on as an independent because the GOP and Dem-NPL had endorsed their candidates. But be advised that no matter how Republican operatives pillory her, she is not a Democrat. She is a conservative whose instincts tilt toward traditional North Dakota Republican values. When Haugen bowed out, Democrats saw an opening with Mund to force Armstrong to confront a credible candidate. Smart political strategy, if a tad cynical. At the least, it will force Armstrong, who hasn’t had an original thought since he joined Trump's magical mystery tour, to actually run a campaign.

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Zaleski retired in 2017 after 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He is the author of a new history of Forum Communications Company . Contact him at jzaleski@forumcomm.com or 701-241-5521 or 701-566-3576.

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

READ MORE FROM JACK ZALESKI
Columnist Jack Zaleski shares thoughts on the midterm election.

Opinion by Jack Zaleski
Zaleski retired in 2017 after 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He is author of a new history of Forum Communications Co. Contact him at jzaleski@forumcomm.com or 701-241-5521 or 701-566-3576.
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