Senator Heidi Heitkamp Gives Lengthy Non-Answer To Question About Running For Governor


Valley News Live’s Chris Berg interviewed Senator Heidi Heitkamp recently and asked her about persistent rumors I’d posted about on the blog a couple of weeks ago which have her running for governor in 2016.

As I wrote at the time, these are just rumors, but they’re being circulated among some pretty well-connected people. And when asked directly about then, Heitkamp doesn’t exactly say no.

The pertinent video starts around the 6:00 mark.

Valley News Live – KVLY/KXJB – Fargo/Grand Forks

As I wrote before, this would make sense for Democrats. The path out of the political wilderness lays through the governor’s office. The power of that office lays not only in policy-making, but also in the power of patronage. Republicans have a deep bench of candidates who can run for statewide and local elected office because Republicans have owned the Governor’s office for more than two decades. That means decades of Republicans not only controlling the policy agenda but also getting appointments to various state positions.

Democrats, on the other hand, have a paucity of well-known and qualified candidates because state government has essentially been in the control of Republicans. Of the last two Democrats to win statewide elected office, one (former Superintendent Wayne Sanstead) has retired and the other (former Ag Commissioner Roger Johnson) has left the state to serve as president of the National Farmer’s Union.

Heitkamp was a godsend for Democrats in 2012 because she was their only real hope for winning any statewide office. And she barely won.

A US Senator simply doesn’t have the sort of influence over state politics the governor has. Being elected to federal office can certainly open doors to national political money – funds raised nationally by former Democrat Senators Kent Conrad and Byron Dorgan as well as former Democrat Rep. Earl Pomeroy were long campaign lifeblood for North Dakota liberals – but it lacks the practical functions and controls in the state the governor’s office has.

If there’s one thing we know about Heidi Heitkamp, it’s that she’s relentlessly ambitious and thirsty for power. Assuming her goal is to revitalize her state party, a move to the governor’s office would make sense. And it wouldn’t be much of a risk. She’d be running for governor with two years left on her Senate term. If she won, she could appoint her successor to the Senate and enjoy serving as the cornerstone of her state party. If she lost, she could keep her Senate seat run for re-election in 2018.

It’s a move that has a lot of reward for Democrats, and not a lot of risk.

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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  • Clairvoyant

    This makes no sense. If she resigned from the Senate, the Governor (Republican) would name her successor. Plus, why would she resign from the Senate early, to run for Governor, a “lesser” position? Although we’ve seen others such as Dayton do it- although he completed his term first-hardly a comparison.

    There is absolutely no way that she quits (or runs as a sitting Senator), to run for Governor. It’s a train wreck that not even Duane Sand would undertake.

    • Rob

      She doesn’t have to quit the Senate to run for governor. She could run in 2016 and, if she loses, run for reelection to the senate in 2018.

      • Clairvoyant

        “She doesn’t have to quit the Senate to run for governor.”

        Rob: WHY would she? That’s the piece that leaves me scratching my head.

        • Rob

          Because being a governor is what she’s always wanted.

          Being governor has more political power in the state.

          • Janne Myrdal

            You r totally right Rob. She has always wanted the governorship. My bet has been in her running for months now.

    • Roy_Bean

      She wouldn’t have to resign until the day that she took office as Governor and then she would appoint her own replacement. That would be a double win for the democrats.

  • Lianne

    Cut and run in the middle of her FIRST legislative session? Tsk! Tsk!

  • Rick Olson

    It should be pointed out that there is no law, either federal or state, which would require Heidi Heitkamp to resign from her seat in the U.S. Senate in order to run for Governor of North Dakota. Many other members of Congress both House and Senate have run for office back home, while simultaneously retaining their seats on Capitol Hill. Barack Obama remained in the U.S. Senate from Illinois when he was campaigning for the Presidency, for example. If Heitkamp were to seek and win her party’s endorsement for governor; it would mean a lot of extra trips between her home in Bismarck in order to campaign, and to tend to her Senate business in Washington, D.C. But that’s why she’s got an office staff in D.C., and would of course have a campaign staff in North Dakota.

    It is quite apparent that Heidi Heitkamp’s real ambition has always been to become Governor. Her decision to run for the U.S. Senate, as Rob said, came more out of expediency than anything. She really has nothing to lose. She could come home and run for governor and if she wins, then once she’s sworn in as governor on Dec. 15, 2016 (the state constitution prescribes that a governor’s term begins on Dec. 15 of the year that he or she is elected); she could then appoint an interim senator to fill the seat until a special election can be held.

    North Dakota law requires that there be a special election called by the governor in the event of a vacancy in the U.S. Senate within 90 days of the vacancy occurring. In the meantime, the governor has the authority to appoint an interim senator who serves until the unexpired term is filled at the special election. If the vacancy in the U.S. Senate occurs within 90 days of a general election, then the unexpired term is filled at the general election. I looked for the exact section in the Century Code where this is addressed, but could not readily put my finger on it.

    Accordingly, if Heitkamp were to win the governorship, then the timing of when a special election to fill her seat in the Senate would be needed to occur would depend upon the date when Heitkamp officially tenders her resignation from the U.S. Senate to the Vice President of the United States, who serves as the President of the Senate, and her resignation as a senator becomes official. Presumably, she could resign her seat in the Senate and be sworn in as governor on the same day…December 15, 2016. That way, the outgoing governor would not be able to appoint an interim senator to fill the seat, as I’ll further explain in the next paragraph:

    Under this sort of a scenario, then whoever Governor Heitkamp were to appoint; would have to run in a special election within three months in order to serve out the remaining two years of Heitkamp’s term in the Senate. The political parties would have to move quickly to hold endorsing conventions, and those candidates would accordingly have to wage a very abbreviated campaign, and then the special election would need to be held. All within 90 days.

    The last time there was a vacancy in the U.S. Senate from North Dakota, which required the unexpired term to be filled in a special election; was when the legendary Sen. Quentin Burdick died. Although then-Gov. George Sinner appointed Burdick’s widow, Jocelyn Birch Burdick to fill her husband’s seat; the appointment was only temporary.

    Senator Burdick died on Sept. 8, 1992; and Jocelyn Burdick was appointed to her late husband’s seat in the U.S. Senate by then-Gov. Sinner on Sept. 16, 1992. Sen. Jocelyn Burdick’s tenure in the U.S. Senate lasted about three months. During this time, she sat on no committees and only participated in a handful of votes on the floor of the U.S. Senate as Congress was wrapping up its session in advance of the Nov. 1992 general election. She followed through on the appointments of that year’s list of high school seniors who were applicants for U.S. military academy appointments that her husband’s office had been working on. That wound up being really the only significant event that took place during her brief tenure as the state’s interim senator.

    The special election to fill Burdick’s seat in the Senate (which Jocelyn Burdick chose not to run for) was held on Dec. 4, 1992; with Kent Conrad winning the seat. Conrad thus became the “senior senator from North Dakota.” Sinner wanted to hold the special election in conjunction with the November 1992 general election, but a unanimous decision by the North Dakota Supreme Court declared that a special election had to be held to fill the unexpired term.

  • ellinas1

    Mr. Port is afflicted with vagina envy.

  • Simon

    If she runs for governor and loses, there may be a backlash when she runs for reelection to the Senate. People will realize she doesn’t really want to be a Senator, so why vote for her? Even if a small number of people switch their vote because of it, she could be a one term Senator.

    • Rick Olson

      That’s the goal, isn’t it? To make her a one-termer. Although the 2018 election is a long ways off, and a lot can and probably will happen between now and then, Heidi really hasn’t shown us much coming out of the starting gate. I believe a well-financed and well-organized Republican candidate could beat her. Do you think there could be a rematch with Rick Berg taking on Heidi Heitkamp?

      Back to your point, Simon, Remember the backlash that Rick Berg got, because he decided to run for the open U.S. Senate seat last year instead of for re-election to the House? There were a number of people in this state, even in his own party, who felt that Berg should have served for a number of terms in the House before asking the people to promote him to the Senate. The Goldmark controversy be darned, they said. These and other things left the door open just wide enough of a crack for Heidi Heitkamp to sneak through, so she beat Berg by probably one of the smallest margins that had been seen to date in North Dakota history.