Democrats came out of the 2012 election cycle feeling pretty good about themselves. They held on to a seat in the US Senate that pretty much everyone, including this observer, had written off for the Republicans. Heidi Heitkamp pulled off a major upset over Rick Berg, and Democrats have been feeding off that perceived momentum.
I say it’s perceived momentum, because if you look at every other election held in the state the Democrats didn’t do so hot. They lost the only state-level office they held when Republican Kirsten Baesler was elected Superintendent of Schools, and they failed to even make a close race out of any of the other statewide competitions. In the legislative races it was a wash. Democrats picked up a couple of seats in the Senate, and lost a couple in the House.
In 2014, it doesn’t look like things are going to get any easier for the liberals as they’ll be facing yet another tidal wave of incumbency in a state that (as you’ll see below) really, really loves incumbents.
I asked each of the statewide office holders who will be on the ballot next year (except for Public Service Commissioner Julie Fedorchak who will be running to have her appointment by Governor Dalrymple confirmed), and all but one indicated that they’ll be running again.
Democrats have a short bench of good candidates and an abysmal in-state fundraising network (the state Democrat party got 74% of their funds from out-of-state in the 2012 cycle). With Senator Heitkamp’s national fundraising networks being attacked by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and surrogates for President Barack Obama because of her vote on gun control, it seems unlikely they’ll have either the resources or the personnel to mount a serious challenge to any of these incumbents.
Here’s what I learned about the plans the incumbents have for 2014, and a bit of history about the offices they hold:
Wayne Stenehjem was first elected in 2000, and was re-elected in 2004, 2006 and 2010. He had that oddball two-year term from 2004 to 2006 because voters in a June 13, 2000 primary election approved a measure changing the Constitution to require one-half of the elected officials to be on a ballot each election year. To begin the process the Secretary of State, Agriculture Commissioner, Attorney General, and the Tax Commissioner were elected for a two-year term starting in 2004. Thereafter the elected officers returned to the cycle of four-year terms.
I contacted Stenehjem about whether or not he would be running for re-election in 2004, and he pretty much said yes. It’s “highly likely I’ll be running again,” he told me.
Stenehjem is already by far the longest-serving AG in state history (Republican Helgi Johanneson is second serving from 1963 to 1972). By the end of his current term, he will have been in the AG’s office for 14 years.
Stenehjem is North Dakota’s 29th AG, all but three of which have been Republican.
North Dakotans really, really don’t like electing new people to the Secretary of State position. Since the creation of the position in 1889, North Dakota has had just 14 different people serve as Secretary of State, the least number among any of the state offices created in that year. That’s including a 33-year run by Republican Ben Meier, from 1955 – 1988, the longest tenure for any state-based Secretary of State in US history. Among state elected officials, that 33 tenure is actually second to Democrat Bruce Hagen’s 39-year stretch on the PSC.
Jaeger is carrying on that tradition of lengthy service. By the end of his current term it will be 22 years since Jaeger was first elected to Secretary of State in 1992 (he also served a single two-year term from 2004 to 2006), and he’s running again. I asked Jaeger whether or not he’s made a decision about 2014 yet. “Yes, I have,” he told me. “I will seek re-election in 2014.”
Fong is a former Deputy Secretary of State under Jaeger, and served as the campaign manager for then-Governor John Hoeven’s 2004 re-election campaign. In 2005 Fong was appointed to replace previous commissioner Rick Clayburgh who resigned the position to become the executive director of the North Dakota Banker’s Association. Fong has been re-elected in 2006 and 2010. By 2014, he will have been in the Tax Commissioner’s office for nine years.
Fong told me he’s running for re-election. “I’m making plans to run again for Tax Commissioner next year,” he said. “An official announcement will likely not come until later this year or even the early part of 2014.”
North Dakota has had 23 different people serve as Tax Commissioner since the office was created in 1919. It was an appointed position until 1940, and was elected on a non-partisan ballot from 1940 to 1987. The longest-serving Tax Commissioner was Democrat John Gray, who served from 1939–1952, followed by Byron Dorgan who was in the office from 1969–1980 until moving on to the US House and ultimately the US Senate.
Kalk won election to the PSC in 2008, beating out former Senate Majority Leader Bob Stenehjem at the NDGOP convention for the nomination and Democat Cheryl Bergian in the general election. With the departures of former PSC members Tony Clark (appointed by President Obama to FERC) and Kevin Cramer (elected to the US House), Kalk is now the longest-serving member of the PSC and its chairman.
The PSC, unlike any other statewide elected office, serves six year terms, so Kalk’s first term in office is coming to a close in 2014. Asked if he’s running for another term, Kalk said it’s likely. “It is a privilege to serve the citizens of North Dakota as the Chairman of the Public Service Commission,” he told me. “I have indicated to supporters that it is likely we will seek another term on the PSC. Our family will make the final decision about running in 2014. At that point, a formal announcement will be made.”
The precursor to the Public Service Commission was actually created before North Dakota became a state. The Board of Railroad Commissioners was established in 1885 to oversee railroads, sleeping car, express and telephone companies. The name was changed to the North Dakota Railroad Commission when the state was admitted to the union in 1889, and the name was changed again to the PSC in 1940.
Since 1940 there have been a total of 20 different people to serve in one of the commission’s three seats, all but one of whom were/are Republicans. Bruce Hagen, the lone Democrat elected to the PSC, was also its longest-serving member putting in 39 years from 1961 to 2000. That’s also, I believe, the longest time one person has ever spent in a single state elected office.
The 2014 election will see two PSC elections. Kalk will seek re-election on schedule, but Fedorchak was appointed to the PSC by Governor Jack Dalrymple in late 2012 to serve out the remainder of Kevin Cramer’s term (Cramer was elected to the US House). Cramer’s term isn’t up until 2016, but state law requires that voters confirm Dalrymple’s appointment on the ballot.
If Fedorchak wins, she’ll have to run again for election to a new six-year term in 2016.
Of all the incumbents on the ballot, Goehring is the only one who expressed to me doubt about running in 2014.
“I hate to say I’m undecided,” he told me when asked about his plans, “but that’s really where I’m at.”
He said he hasn’t been spending much time thinking about re-election at all, but said it would probably be “late winter” before full committing one way or another.
Since the Ag Commissioner position was made separate from the previous Commissioner of Labor and Agriculture, an office created when the state was founded. From 1889 to 1964 there were 13 people who held the Commissioner of Labor and Agriculture title, all Republicans. Since the Ag Commissioner was made separate, there have been six different commissioners split evenly between Democrats and Republicans.