Blue Cross Cronyism: Former Dem House Candidate Hired By Former Heitkamp Campaign Manager


North Dakota is a very Republican state. Every statewide office is controlled by Republicans, and the legislature has a super majority of Republicans in the House and the Senate. And yet BCBS thought it would be in their best interest to hire former Democrat House candidate Pam Gulleson (see the press release here) who was easily defeated by Republican Kevin Cramer during the past election by almost 55% to 42%. A margin that would almost assuredly have been wider had Libertarian Candidate Eric Olsen not pulled roughly 10,000 votes from Cramer’s total.

This pick by BCBS makes the company look very partisan, and very liberal, at a time when health insurance policy issues are extremely polarized.

BCBS CEO Paul von Ebers has previously stated publicly that he registered as a Democrat when he was working and living in New York. This new VP position for which Gulleson was hired reports to Denise Kolpack, Senior Vice President and Chief of Staff. Kolpack is the former campaign manager for Heidi Heitkamp, running the Senator-elect’s failed gubernatorial campaign against John Hoeven in 2000.

Pam Gulleson was Chief of Staff for Sen. Byron Dorgan and, during her time serving in the state House, was something less than supportive of many issues of concern for businesses (which came out during her US House campaign). Gulleson was also a supporter of Obamacare, though wasn’t outspoken about it during her recent House campaign for obvious reasons, and at one point supported instituting a single-payer government health care system in North Dakota.

Now Gulleson will also be in charge of the Government Relations Department at BCBS. BCBS has been a strong advocate for the unpopular Obamacare health insurance exchanges and more recently the so-called “partnership exchanges.” It’s hard to imagine how BCBS, already backing some health care/insurance issues that are unpopular int he state, will better their position by bringing on board such a partisan and divisive figure as Gulleson.

It will be tough sledding for BCBS during the next legislative session in the Republican controlled legislature.

Rob Port is the editor of In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters.

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  • Greg

    I’m confused. Are you saying that a private company shouldn’t be able to hire who they want? If a republican were in charge, they should have to hire a democrat for a position so as not to look partisan? Sorry, I disagree with this post.

    • Rob

      Of course they can hire who they want.

      And I can criticize the appearance of cronyism.


      • kevindf

        Nepotism and cronyism are the ND way.

      • dakotacyr

        So when they hired a republican former legislator as their lobbyist, crickets….crickets….. where is the appearance cronyism?

        • Rob

          Well, that wasn’t quite the same situation now was it?

          • dakotacyr

            What’s the difference?

          • Rob

            Pam gets hired by Heidi’s crony? An obamacare supporter handling public affairs for a the biggest health insurance company operating in a state that hates the law?

            Please, Dakota, don’t play dumb with me.

  • Roy_Bean

    I don’t understand how creating new VP positions for their buddies will keep the cost of health insurance down. I just hope they give her a company car so she isn’t always broke down between Forman and Fargo.

  • borborygmi

    Now Rob is going to tell businesses how to run their business. Hutzpah Rob. Perhaps this is the best move for their business. THey have to work with a Democrat administration so this liason may be the easiest for them. Do you want to have businesses hire by political affiliation now? For a libertarian you sure want to poke your nose into other peoples business.

    • Rob

      I’m not telling them how to run their business. I’m not calling for a law limiting how they run their business.

      I’m just pointing out the big business cronyism.

  • borborygmi

    If it would have been a republican hiring a republican Rob would just call it good networking.

  • guest

    This is what is wrong with politics. Republican and Democrat political hacks get hired only because of their political friendships. Their real world (or lack thereof often) business experience does not matter. These incompetent political turned businesspeople then create fiscal woes for the country, just like Hank Paulsen, Corzine, Geitner, and the list goes on and on. Smoke and mirrors. That is all it is. This country nees to focus more on substance. That’s what our greatest generation did (WWII heroes).

  • Goon

    This woman Pam Gulleson is a buffoon.

  • NDConservative2011

    Being that the Republicans in the North Dakota legislature hold super a super majority in both the senate and the house, one wonders how a super partisan such as Gulleson from the Democratic party could be effective for BCCS of North Dakota.

  • jerry

    if dot BCBS and gov jobs they would be on some gov. program any way

  • wj

    I have nothing to say about whether it is cronyism, but it should be said that BCBS tends to hire both Republicans and Democrats as its lobbyists and that remains the case if you check who it has registered as lobbyists for 2013. Also, Gulleson was not known as a divisive figure while she was at the legislature.