“A little rebellion now and then is a good thing”
– Thomas Jefferson, 1787
The North Dakota GOP, from outward appearance, would appear to be a picture that should be placed next to the definition of “Red State” in the dictionary. They enjoy super-majorities on both sides of the state house, two of three congressional seats are theirs (with the third looking promising come November 2012) along with each of the state constitutional offices (except for the Superintendent of Public Instruction, although one could argue that the technically non-partisan nature of this office should not count for or against party tallies). The governor’s chair is occupied by a republican, albeit unelected. Five candidates are competing for the party’s US House nomination, and two for the Governor.
On the flip side, the ND Democratic-NPL Party is a picture best placed next to the definition of chaos in that same dictionary. Once a mighty force in the state to be reckoned with, it is a mere shell of its former self. The writing started going in that dictionary in 2008 when an election which swept Barack Obama into power (shortly after a midterm election cycle that turned over congress to his party) failed to have a ripple effect in the state; the party missed what was arguably the best opportunity which may present itself in recent times to achieve a majority over or at least parity with the NDGOP. Quite the opposite. The 2008 election resulted in a zero sum gain for the ND Dem-NPL in the legislature, and set the stage for devastating losses in 2010 at all levels of offices.
What’s worse, their 2012 convention had appallingly low turnout despite the appearance of former President Bill Clinton. The party barely scraped together enough candidates to run for each state and federal office up for grabs, and it is unknown at this time if they have candidates for each district legislative seat up for a decision. One commenter to SAB quipped that “…the (Dem-NPL) Time and Place committee will be reporting out that the 2014 convention will be held in the back room of a Pizza Ranch.”
With this level of disparity between the parties in the state, one may assume the NDGOP is one big happy family from outward appearance. With a virtual monopoly on power within the state, how could things be any better, right? Enter reality…
Certain district chairs and the State chair seemingly are at war over the hearts and minds of the record number of delegates set to attend the State Convention in Bismarck this weekend. At the heart of the debate is a pledge put together by a sponsoring committee of these district chairs asking candidates for state and federal office to do something very novel — actually commit in writing to the ideals of the party, especially when this party has collectively drifted away from the very platform and resolutions it promotes in writing.
The proper reaction from party leadership would have been to welcome such a pledge as a commitment to the values which bind that party together, and define it’s very reason for existence. Instead, NDGOP Chair Stan Stein chose the very improper reaction of publicly calling out this pledge, going as far to say that educating delegates on where each candidate stands in relation to commitment to party values was a “breach of trust”. Mind you, this “breach of trust” is not different than what each individual candidate (pledge signer or otherwise) has been using that same delegate list for — contacting these delegates to educate and inform them on what they bring to the table as a candidate.
What was particularly distressing about Stein’s condemnation of this pledge is he seemed to miss how many candidates willingly embraced in writing the very principles his party stands for by signing it. His communications director, Matt Becker, appeared on the Scott Hennen Show today and said the party “didn’t want any candidate to feel rushed” in making a decision on if they would commit to party values in writing. A week was provided to make this basic decision. PSC candidates Blair Thoreson and Randy Christmann have signed, as did House candidates Brian Kalk, Bette Grande, Kim Koppelman and Kevin Cramer. Senate candidate Duane Sand and gubernatorial candidate Paul Sorum signed as well.
Who didn’t? Governor Jack Dalrymple, Rep. Rick Berg, Treasurer Kelly Schmidt, Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm, House candidate Shane Goettle and State Auditor Bob Peterson; some of whom are associated with the NDGOP old guard which has enabled state government to grow by double digit percentages, while handing out of hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to special interests. None of whom who have exercised any real leadership when it comes to matters like a Higher Ed system self-destructing under the very deceitful leadership some had a hand in selecting, or an infrastructure system collapsing (literally and figuratively) under an oil boom they want to take credit for and repetitive disasters they have yet to show real leadership in.
Stein’s email prompted this statement from gubernatorial candidate Paul Sorum today:
Whether you support Sorum or not, his response is spot on, particularly when he says “I embrace and proudly PLEDGE my support for the currently adopted “Declaration of Republican Principles”. I also believe any candidate unwilling to Pledge their support for our Republican Principles does not deserve and should not be given the privilege of placing an “R” behind their name on a ballot for public office.“.
One can argue the rebellion started in 2010 when the Tea Party movement was misdiagnosed as more threat than opportunity by the godfathers of the state party. Despite the Tea Party’s role in convincing Senator Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad it was time to retire, and in retiring their sidekick Earl Pomeroy by 10 percentage points, party elders succeeded in alienating many aligned with tea party ideals by simultaneously attempting to co-opt them for their vote, while preventing them from returning the party itself to more conservative values through its actions. Despite this, many aligned with Tea Party ideals have hung on.
Ron Paul can also be thanked for energizing young blood to flow into old arteries, but this generation will not sit quietly by on the sideline waiting their turn to be put in the game. This is in part a generational value they hold; and also in part because they joined to evolve the party (at state and national levels) through returning it fully to the very ideals of liberty and conservatism which are supposed to consist its very foundation. Many others just feel the state and nation are not on the right track, and the only way to turn it back is to get involved on more than just election day.
Through this effort to get involved, the “newcomers” (some party “elite” even refer to them as outsiders) have had to endure or overcome the antics which have kept that elite empowered for too long. A corporate culture of favoritism still abounds, vs. ensuring all candidates have a fair shot at competing for party nominations. This has even prompted some candidates to skip the nominating process altogether (granted, Sand’s decision may be considered by some as coming a little late in the game).
The delegate selection process has improved over the past, but is still not standardized in the party. Some district chairs continue to use this to their advantage. But, despite these challenges, the new blood (regardless of source) is flowing, and could be poised to deliver fresh oxygen to the parts of the state GOP body where it is needed most (starting with the brain). Over 1,900 delegates and alternates have registered for the state convention, according to Becker. This is a 75% increase over 2008, and a 21% increase over 2010. Candidates truly reflecting party values are running, and putting their commitment to those values in writing. Districts, which consist the heart of the party, are having their members stand up to past antics, and are even taking over the leadership positions in some where they have occurred.
Thus, underneath the appearance of the NDGOP’s success exists a party seemingly on the verge of rebellion. This rebellion, though, may be the best thing that could happen to it to ensure it’s future vitality (much like our own nation’s rebellion against England was), and to hold onto the gains they have fought so hard to achieve over time. Mr. Stein and the rest the NDGOP State Executive Committee (as well as the rest of the “old guard” who have helped take the party off course from its very foundation) would be well advised to start going with the flow of this new blood, vs. trying to block it and potentially creating a crisis for the party body as a whole. They would also be well advised to understand that this new blood is looking for a level of commitment to conservative party values from their candidates which was displayed by Sorum and the others who signed the very pledge he was critical of.