We take no satisfaction in noting that, with Heidi Heitkamp’s defeat in the U.S. Senate race, North Dakota Democrats soon will not hold any statewide offices. Although the North Dakota Republican Party’s rise in politics now has been unfolding for more than 25 years, it’s still a rarity even in this now-thoroughly red state for one party to have a total lock on statewide offices.
No political party, no matter how successful at the ballot box, has a monopoly on good ideas. Public policy benefits when it results from robust debate and clashing viewpoints are melded, incorporating the best ideas from competing sides. North Dakota Republicans simply don’t have to listen to their Democratic colleagues — and even diehard Republicans should realize that’s less than optimal for public policy and accountability.
Some will undoubtedly read this lament and be quick to pounce: Wait, didn’t The Forum editorial page just endorse only Republicans in the fall election? In North Dakota races, that’s true. But don’t overlook the fact that this page also simultaneously endorsed three Minnesota Democratic candidates in major races: Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.; Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Steve Simon, secretary of state.
We won’t endorse candidates simply for the sake of presenting a tidy slate of candidates that adheres to some ideal of bipartisanship. This page unapologetically expounds a conservative-leaning point of view. But we’re sincere in urging North Dakota Democrats to strengthen their game. We need more diverse points of view in Bismarck, and we need more women to be elected to political offices to shape policies that better reflect and serve society.
Here in south Fargo’s District 41 legislative races, Democrats and women demonstrated they can win. Republican newcomer Michelle Strinden and Democratic incumbent Pamela Anderson were elected to the House — unseating Rep. Al Carlson, the powerful GOP House majority leader, a major upset. Anderson and Strinden were strong candidates who connected with voters.
Now staring into the abyss, North Dakota Democrats will have to engage in a thorough self-examination. There’s no denying that North Dakota Republicans have succeeded in putting forward candidates and policies that appeal to voters. It’s worth remembering that Ed Schafer’s capture of the governor’s office in the 1992 election started the GOP’s ascendancy.
He sensed the state’s shift toward conservatism, exploiting the sentiments expressed in 1989, when voters rejected a package of tax increases. Once in office, Schafer consciously set about building the party, recruiting and appointing, among others, young Republicans like Kevin Cramer, who just unseated Heitkamp.
In fairness, North Dakota Democrats are badly hampered by their national party, which has utterly ignored the issues important to rural constituents. Some accuse the Democrats of losing touch with the workers and farmers who formed their voting base. It’s often noted that we’re a badly divided nation; it’s less often noted that perhaps the biggest division of all is between rural and urban populations.
To be successful, a political party must listen to and respond to both rural and urban constituencies. North Dakota Democrats have shown they’re capable of doing that. Less than a decade ago, after all, the state’s entire congressional delegation was blue. But it’s hard to imagine that happening again anytime soon, or the restoration of a functioning two-party system in state government. We take no satisfaction in noting that.