Port: To Burgum and Stenehjem, a plague on both your houses
If North Dakota had better transparency laws for political campaigns, I'd probably be able to tell you that Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Fargo businessman Doug Burgum have engaged in the most expensive primary campaign in North Dakota his...
If North Dakota had better transparency laws for political campaigns, I'd probably be able to tell you that Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Fargo businessman Doug Burgum have engaged in the most expensive primary campaign in North Dakota history. Unfortunately, our laws do not require that the candidates report their spending-or, in Burgum's case, what he is spending of his personal fortune on his campaign-so I cannot state that as a fact. But it sure seems like the most expensive primary campaign in state history.
What's frustrating isn't the money spent on the Republican primary, which, due to the fading relevance of North Dakota Democrats, will probably pick the next governor. Rather, it's that despite the money spent, we've learned little about how these candidates might govern if they win.
Burgum has carpet-bombed the airwaves, the Internet and mailboxes with advertising blasting our state's "runaway spending," and defining himself as a fiscal conservative. But according to Forum News Service reporter Mike Nowtazki, Burgum "declined to identify specific cuts" he'd make to the budget when asked. How can you spend millions on advertising blasting state spending while being unwilling to define specific areas of spending you'd like reduced?
That has been typical of Burgum's aggressive campaign messaging, which is long on superficial attacks on his opponents and short on the specifics of how Burgum might actually approach policymaking. Burgum's cadre of sycophants often refer to him as a "visionary." I don't think one should lay claim to that title until you actually, you know, provide a vision.
Not that Stenehjem has been paragon of policy specificity in his campaign. I was hopeful when the attorney general announced plans for prison reform aimed at addressing excessive incarceration. That's a meaty area of policy ripe for reform and pertinent to the larger issues with the state's falling revenues. But Stenehjem has been light on details. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Marvin Nelson, who is patiently waiting for the general election to begin so he can be steamrolled by whomever is the Republican candidate, called Stenehjem's proposal "a proposal to do nothing, except a few scholarships." That statement is unfair, and I suspect Stenehjem has a great deal more planned, but the scholarships are all the candidate has told us about.
Meanwhile, Stenehjem's campaign messaging seems to center mostly around taking umbrage over the attacks by Burgum. I had thought that Burgum, after stepping out of his bubble as the darling of downtown Fargo, would be the most thin-skinned candidate in this race, but Stenehjem has given him a run for his money.
Nationally the presidential campaigns are shaping up to be a race to the bottom. In Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton we have a choice between two of the most sordid, ignoble, unlikable political figures in American history. I would like to have thought that here in North Dakota, our politics could have aspired to something better. In some ways, we have. Both Stenehjem and Burgum have more honor than political circus freaks like Clinton and Trump though, alas, both have endorsed the latter national candidate (and are regretting it, I think).
But the mudslinging and politics of outrage in the primary race have done little to help voters make an informed choice that is consequential for our state's future. And for that, to paraphrase Mercutio, a plague on both their houses.