There are many public servants and oil executives to blame for their silence but only Kevin Cramer, Mr. North Dakota way, thinks he deserves a seat in the United States Senate. So, he has to answer for his failures.
“It took “more than 1,000 firefighters from 80 different municipalities in Quebec and from six counties in the state of Maine” to help with evacuations and fire-fighting efforts in the small town (Lac-Megantic) of only a few thousand people, according to a Transportation Safety Board of Canada report.” — Bellingham Herald
That was in was in July 2013. Forty-seven people died when a Bakken oil train careened off the tracks, which led to a series of violent explosions. Five victims were vaporized.
“(Congressman Kevin) Cramer said after 10 years (2003 to 2012) on North Dakota’s Public Service Commission, he was confident the state’s oil was safe.” —The Minot Daily News Sept. 12, 2014
I could go into why his statement to The Minot Daily News was so sociopathically dangerous and irresponsible because there were many more Bakken oil train disasters to come, but his inaction before and after one particular incident explains where his heart lies.
2008. Just outside of Luther, Okla., and 30 miles from Oklahoma City, the first train hauling Bakken crude derails and explodes. Big red flag.
“Among 14 cars that derailed in mixed freight train, eight cars of crude oil derailed. All spilled their contents, three from large gashes in their shells. The spilled oil caught fire and caused a massive explosion that was captured by a local TV news crew in a helicopter. About 35 people were evacuated but returned to their homes the same day. Crude oil originated in Fairview, Mont., in the Bakken region. Incident could have been an early sign of Bakken oil’s flammability.” — McClatchey, Jan. 27, 2014
Fairview straddles the North Dakota, Mont., border, but if any train originating in the Bakken explodes, it would raise concerns with any regulator with a conscience. No worries there.
But oil trains had stopped exploding on impact many decades ago, right?
Yes, but it was hurry hurry in the Bakken. The oil barons deliberately chose not to remove the explosive heptane, pentane, methane, propane, butane, ethane, isobutane and so on from the crude oil before filling the tanker cars. It was a choice. Oil companies decided, and regulators, like Kevin, looked the other way.
“The oil industry says there is a ready market for the extracted gases in Texas, but none in North Dakota. Therefore, say the producers, the explosive gases are best shipped to refineries while still dissolved in the crude.” — Railway Age
Kevin Cramer knew what was in the liquid coming out of the ground, and he knew the concoction they poured into the tanker cars, which were designed to haul corn syrup. And since trains have been derailing since they were invented, he knew what was likely to happen.
Unless Kevin was really bad at his job. It’s possible. Neither option is flattering.
Luther, Okla.; Lac-Megantic, Quebec; Aliceville, Ala.; Casselton, N.D.; Lynchburg, Va.; and more big booms, until Mosier, Ore., on June 3, 2016.
The fire chief of Mosier is still whiter than usual and shaking, just at the thought of what the damage would have been when a single sheared-off track bolt caused the derailment, fire and explosion of a Bakken oil train that would have burnt down the entire town had the wind been blowing like normal through the Columbia River Gorge. Spilled oil gummed up their sewage system, but none reached the river, so yay for abnormal weather conditions.
Trains are still making runs to the West Coast, and a facility was finally built in North Dakota to refine the explosive gases. All of the gases, for all of the wells? I don’t know.
On Sept.r 23, 2014, the North Dakota Industrial Commission holds a hearing:
“They (oil execs) testified that the oil was already safe, that train accidents were few and far between, and that regulations would cost the industry a lot of money.” — Prairie Public
Kevin Cramer, the proud owner of an oddly configured brain, said it is “discriminatory” to call Bakken crude by it’s given name, in a feeble attempt to obscure the source of the danger from the rest of the continent.
His words: “Well, whenever they refer to it as Bakken crude, you have to conclude they are discriminating because crude is not categorized, or characterized by its origin, by its location, by it’s geography.
“It should be characterized by its characteristics, it’s scientific and chemical make-up, so I think the rhetoric gets a little reckless. It tends to favor a particular point of view, a bias in advance, and that’s what I want to do away with on the 9th.
“I don’t know whether that (stabilization) is necessary or not. That’s part of what we will be exploring in our hearing in the science committee, because is it scientifically possible to strip it out? Obviously, of course, it is … but when you apply not just that, but the economics, and remember, you can strip those light elements off of the crude, but that has to be shipped as well, so in many respects, filling a train with nothing but the light elements, the more explosive, if you will, elements, and making that a bullet train; I’m not sure that is the right answer, so scientifically can you do it, sure, but you have to look at it holistically and consider all of the other elements; including economics, and is the benefit of doing something like that trump other things like speed of trains, and what kind of cars. There are other things to consider. That’s why I think a congressional hearing is the next best step, dealing specifically with the science of the crude.” — Kevin Cramer
“There are some benefits frankly to the stabilization process and that is stripping some of the liquids, some of the other gases off and using them in the marketplace. That is a far better solution that just stripping it for the sake of stripping it.” Kevin Cramer
Free market ideology over public safety.
And this Cramer gem: “When you strip it, you now have highly explosive gases that have to get to market somehow. They have to go into a pipeline, they have to go on the train, making it even more explosive.”
“RECKLESS ENDANGERMENT is a crime consisting of acts that create a substantial risk of serious physical injury to another person. The accused person isn’t required to intend the resulting or potential harm, but must have acted in a way that showed a disregard for the foreseeable consequences of the actions.” USLegal.com
Is it any surprise that Harold Hamm is the Cramer campaign finance chair?
Kevin will do or say anything to protect his oil buds, even at the expense of human lives.
I’d like to begin this week by saying, “That darn Heidi Heitkamp.”
I’m referring, of course, to last week’s column in The Forum in which Mike McFeely ever-so-gently, in his curmudgeonly way, suggested that fellow columnist Rob Port might try writing about someone other than Heidi Heitkamp.
Like maybe Joel Heitkamp. I mean, I ain’t exactly Sherlock Holmes, but if I were going after dirt, I’d start digging in his backyard. Someone once asked Willie Sutton why he robbed banks. “Because that’s where the money is,” he said.
Joel has more skeletons in his closet than Jeffrey Dahmer. Far be it from me to cast aspersions, but I had lunch with him once, and he ordered fava beans and a nice Chianti, and for the record, that’s not even on the menu at Burger King.
It’s true that Rob Port has broken more than a few news stories over the years, but so far, all he has on Heidi is that she cheated at Parcheesi in fifth grade, has too many freckles and is bad at handshakes. Meanwhile, I know for a fact that Joel Heitkamp once robbed Willie Sutton. With an AR-16.
You could write for months just about prom night. There’s a version of the Steele Dossier on the bathroom walls at Hankinson (N.D.) High School. Joel’s senior year reads like “Fifty Shades of What the Hell!?”
But you know what they say — “You can lead a columnist to water, but he probably can’t swim.”
Personally, I refrain from talking about other columnists except for Tammy Swift, who has the cutest curly blonde hair ever. And while I’m at it, I’d like to thank Roxane Salonen for casting out my demons — I’m a Republican now — and I’m really sorry about the carpet. Roxane is my spirit animal, which, if you think about it, is really messed up.
To paraphrase Ronald Reagan’s 11th Commandment, I believe one should “Speak no ill of a fellow columnist,” although these days in the White House I think it’s “Speak no ill of a fellow Communist.”
But I’m giving McFeely a pass on this one. This was more of an intervention. Not that I think Mike is the right guy for the job. If he showed up in my living room and gave me a hug, I think I’d start drinking more. They probably should have sent Roxane Salonen to Rob’s house. With a tarp.
This is getting worrisome. When Jake from State Farm called Rob and asked him what he was wearing, the answer was “Heidi Heitkamp’s pajamas.” That can’t be comfortable. Heidi is so folksy, she wears burlap, and according to the TV commercial I saw, Crocs.
If you dealt with as much chaffing as Rob Port, you’d lash out, too.
The problem with picking a fight with Rob is you’re going to need a thesaurus. (For you South Dakota State University grads, that’s not the dinosaur that ate the lawyer in Jurassic Park.) Rob has a propensity for using big words. Like propensity.
On this one, the smart money is on Port. McFeely knows just one big word. Kerfuffle. I don’t know what that is exactly, but it sounds like something you’d need a trained pig to sniff out in French forests. Or something you do after eating fava beans. Or a colorful nickname for an Austin Powers villain — Kerfuffle Carbuncle.
McFeely’s column went virus on the interwebs, but surprisingly, many liberals were critical of him. They weren’t exactly rushing to Port’s defense, but they felt that it was too little, too late. Apparently, McFeely should have attacked like a rabid dog (or Shawn Hannity) the instant Port showed his conservative leanings. Which was at birth. He only suckled from the right.
And the narrative is McFeely should have been even tougher on him.
Wow. Democrats have gotten so grumpy these days I can’t tell them from Republicans. Except in coffee shops and on the highway. At Starbucks, Democrats are the ones ordering soy caramel macchiatos, and Republicans are the ones making black people leave. Except for Kanye.
On the road, you can tell them apart because conservatives drive Cadillacs and liberals drive hybrids. Democrats will stop traffic to move a turtle. Republicans want to make it legal to drive over protesters or at least waterboard them.
One of my hobbies is cruising the Whole Foods parking lot with Make America Great Again bumper stickers. I put them on every Prius I see.
I slap PETA stickers on Suburbans parked at gun shops.
In my own small way, I feel I’m bringing us closer together.
My buddy, Rob Port, used the coveted space for his Sunday column to set up a hypothetical Festivus pole, air his grievances and sob over his keyboard. My sources say he paced in the hall for a solid 45 seconds before getting winded and falling into a heap of self-pity. The feats of strength portion of Festivus was canceled, due to a lack of strength.
It is a Festivus miracle that anyone would waste money on this rube.
The headline and copy exemplified why he isn’t taken seriously, and many people consider him an embarrassment to the newspaper industry, worldwide, and Forum Communications in particular. I’m just generally embarrassed for people with no self-awareness or shame. Ferrets also have no self-awareness or shame. They are the Ports of the animal kingdom.
It’s as if he impersonated a real journalist and a real higher education expert, in a debate at Minot State University. Oh, right. Port did that and wore his finest checkered shirt and what appeared on video to be skinny jeans. The dull-witted one argued with people who have degrees up to their knees.
It’s doubtful that Port understood most of the words, but he was pleased with himself anyway. That’s the type of person we’re dealing with\ and partly explains his column of victimhood woe.
Let’s dissect this dead carp. Port’s words are in quotations.
“COMMENTARY: CRITICS CRY SHUT UP, BUT MY CRITICISM ON SENATOR IS SOUND”
What critic said shut up? He doesn’t know. Port’s Heidi obsession cannot be summed up as sound. It’s not. If you’re into the 109 degrees of separation game, laced with venom, Rob’s your dude.
“MINOT, N.D. — Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and her network of operatives and supporters are out to make me Public Enemy No. 1.”
The youngster never names any of these operatives involved in this conspiracy. He usually calls these imaginary people “surrogates.” The word surrogates, appears in 7,436 Heidi hit pieces.
And he isn’t No. 1. He wishes. Port’s just a lackey.
“The problem is that the senator’s approval numbers are tanking ahead of what promises to be the most vigorously contested election of her life.”
The Portweasel just made that up. His mediocrity is the problem.
“The solution, it seems, is to paint yours truly as a big, bad bully who just won’t leave poor Heitkamp alone.”
The Portweasel just made that up.
“Remember, this is a U.S. senator we’re talking about. As one of just 100 members of that legislative chamber, she is one of the most powerful political figures in the country. She has a war chest stuffed with millions in donations which funds, among other things, a campaign staff eager to mau-mau anyone critical of their candidate.”
Mau-mau? OK. Port is eager to mau-mau anyone critical of Kevin Cramer. Kevin can say nothing too stupid to get the mau-mau thing from his third favorite media sycophant.
“Lately, though, Heitkamp has taken the posture of a victim in the face of criticism from me. Her staffers, who never bother to respond to my requests for comment or interviews, routinely contact my bosses encouraging them to shut me up. The state’s opinion pages frequently feature letters to the editor from Democratic operatives whinging on about a supposed “obsession” with the senator.”
Heitkamp has never mentioned the blogger’s name, to my memory, but Rob can fantasize about keeping her up at night. Heidi doesn’t consider Port at all. He’s a hack who thinks he deserves some respect because JoeMN, Orville and a small cast of turkey vultures,who circle the polluted pond on his blog, are waiting to attack anyone who might leave a factual comment. These mooks hang on his every word, or at least try to sound out the headline.
“Even my colleague, Mike McFeely, is doing his part for Heitkamp under the guise of promoting professional standards. In a recent column, he was floating the scurrilous idea that I might be paid off by Republicans. He claims that a political commentator like me writing a lot about a candidate in what promises to be the biggest political brawl in state history is somehow unbecoming of someone in our profession.”
McFeely is not Jr.’s colleague (that implies some level of equality), and he wasn’t doing anything on behalf of Heitkamp. And he didn’t float anything. As McFeely stated, readers have wondered about his obviously adhesive relationship with Kevin Cramer. How many lies is that, so far?
“There’s a simple explanation for why all of this is happening: My criticism of Heitkamp is sound.”
No it isn’t. Sorry, you little hombre.
“It’s resonating with the public.”
“It’s become inconvenient to Heitkamp’s efforts to get herself re-elected.”
Wrong again. Voldeport (copyrighted by Kris Wallman), thinks a lot of himself.
“Thus, it must be removed. Or diminished.”
Thus, the thin-skinned one doesn’t understand the issue. Drama queen.
“Hilariously, there seems to be little concern from my critics about the senator’s brother operating a Fargo-based radio station as a de facto campaign headquarters. When Joel Heitkamp was riding herd on Heitkamp’s opponent in 2012 — former Republican Congressman Rick Berg — there were no complaints from our friends on the left.”
Port complained, and since I listened to KFGO before that election (did Robbie?), and to call the radio station as a de facto campaign headquarters, is ridiculous. Another lie. I’m sure it sounded true during a fever dream brought on by mayonnaise malaise.
“The hypocrisy is so thick you could cut it with a knife.”
I love cliches.
“You’ll notice that the bulk of the criticism of my coverage of North Dakota’s U.S. Senate race is not focused on what I’m writing. There are few rebuttals offered for the points I’m making. Rather, we are being treated to tantrums from people who are upset that I’m writing anything at all.”
Also, not true. Weasel boy is throwing the tantrum in this comedy.
“I dislike dedicating a column like this to some food fight with a bunch of politicos and campaign operatives, but I felt I owed you, the audience, a rebuttal to the smear campaign against me.”
Gosh, thanks, I did feel owed. Port knows how to smear, but not enough people care about him to call anything a campaign.
“I choose topics because they matter. My critics want me to shut up because they know those topics matter.”
Another miss. Have another bottle of cough syrup.
“One truth I’ve learned in 15 years of writing about politics is that you usually get the most flak when you’re over the target.”
I bought a gizmo that is supposed to drive away vermin by emitting a super high-pitched sound. I wanted a herd of hard-partying ants on a sugar high to take a hike. Or take a long walk off a short pier, like my uncles used to tell me on a regular basis.
It’s undignified to live with insects that strut around like they own the place. So far, all the annoying squeal (I imagine) has kept away are bears. White through black. Haven’t seen a one of them. The ants laugh and line dance on the gadget. “Boot Scootin Boogie” still haunts me, from a former life.
Speaking of bears, I imagine that some of the college-educated professional news people at the Forum and WDAY have also tried audio waves to shoo away the pesky amatuer Rob Port. The raccoon infestation has moved over to Broadway, but the blogger is evidently immune to good vibrations, toxic sprays and kites that look like dragons. Hang in there, people.
Aside from his calling them “colleagues,” which insults me and I don’t even work there, Port also has a neurological problem level of shrill repetition, with his topics.
HEIDI HEITKAMP WORE MISMATCHED SOCKS TO PROM!
WHO GAVE BIBI NETANYAHU A NOOGIE IN AN UBER? WAS IT HEIDI?
HIGH FOUR? IS HEIDI HEITKAMP TOO SHORT?
DOES RED CAUSE VITAMIN D DEFICIENCY? MY SOURCES SAY YES!
HEIDI TOOK A KNEE WHEN HER COACH SAID, TAKE A KNEE!
She’s a vicious red-haired she-devil, no doubt.
Obviously, Port writes his own headlines because no standard-issue person could concoct such clunky word strings.
One of his favorite heavily repeated themes is that Heitkamp is a big meany, and she will surely pick on the angelic Congressman Kevin Cramer.
Recently, Port posted the following:
“THIS IS WHY SENATOR HEITKAMP HAS TO MAKE VOTERS HATE HER OPPONENT”
“I’ve long predicted that the 2018 U.S. Senate election will be one of the ugliest North Dakota has ever seen.” (Now, that’s some fine punditing.)
“Part of the foundation for that prediction lays in the way the incumbent, Sen. Heitkamp, campaigned in 2012. She ran a VICIOUS campaign that year, BRUTALIZING her opponent Rick Berg with her surrogates painting the man as a “slum lord” and worse.” (Robbie made the wrong prediction and has been pouting about it ever since. Berg claimed that Heitkamp wanted to disarm our military, so Port can hang his hat on that gem.)
“But if she can use her millions in out-of-state contributions to turn the race into referendum on what an awful person Congressman Kevin Cramer is, maybe she can win.” (Well, he is awful.)
“She’s a gifted politician, she has millions from out of state donors in the bank already, and she’s proven to have FEW SCRUPLES when it comes to SAVAGING her political opponents.”
So, because the smiling, smarmy, smirking Cramer would never resort to running a negative campaign, little Port has taken the initiative to pick up the slack with the scruple-free, vicious and savaging of Kevin’s opponent, Heidi Heitkamp. Chris Berg and Scott Hennen help.
And Cramer has a standing spot on Port’s radio show. I wouldn’t listen if threatened with a push into a pit crawling with saw-scaled vipers. But it’s hard to stifle the commercials, and I can confirm that Robbie giggles like a little girl when he thinks he’s said something funny.
Of course, junior is also a flack for big oil, the North Dakota GOP, pipeline companies and downtrodden wealthy corporations.
He prefers provocative statements for headlines that aren’t proven in the copy or don’t match the content of the post. But it doesn’t matter.
While being indoctrinated in government high school, he might have been told that 60 percent to 80 percent of readers peruse only the deceptive headline, and Forum Communications allows him three or four headlines per day, which enter the bloodstream of the organization.
Many take Port’s headlines as gospel. It’s an insidious way to push an agenda. He can come up with any dribble that leaks out of his ears without any pushback.
Port also misrepresents the facts on a regular basis. Opinion is one thing, math is another. As is science. Truth supersedes ideology. Port is a liar. The match with Cramer makes sense.
But the deceit never gets corrected. He just moves to the next sham Heitkamp scandal. Try digging through her garbage, you little brown-nose bear.
AIR FORCE ONE ANNOUNCEMENT — “Ladies and gentlemen, we are experiencing some … uh … turbulence. As we continue our steep descent into anarchy, please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position and that your seat belt is securely fastened. Before we crash, we’d like you all to fill out this brief questionnaire, the results of which will be shared with Cambridge Analytica.
1. Song President Trump often sings in the shower:
A. Hotline Bling.
B. My Ding-a-Ling.
C. 50 Ways to Fire Your Mueller.
D. It’s the End of the World (And I Feel Fine)
2. A better choice for national security adviser than John Bolton:
A. John Belushi.
B. Michael Bolton.
C. Edwin Starr.
D. Dr. Evil.
3. Things John Bolton wants to blow up:
A. North Korea.
B. East Korea.
C. West Korea.
D. North by Northwest Korea.
4. Things Donald Trump wants to blow up:
A. The soybean trade with China.
B. Apparently the stock market.
C. An inflatable love doll named Chesty.
D. The prenup.
5. Where is Mike Pence these days?
A. Undisclosed location in The Swamp.
B. Not dining alone with Stormy Daniels, that’s for sure.
C. The bullpen.
D. Cowering in a dark closet repeatedly mumbling to himself, “Out, damned spot …”
6. Solution to a vexing political problem:
A. Tweet firing.
B. Build a wall.
D. Russian Agents and poison.
7. Things to expect in a brawl between Trump and Joe Biden:
A. A folding chair will be involved.
B. Kicking and a’ gouging in the mud and the blood and the beer.
C. Each touches the other inappropriately.
D. A sleeper, which everyone knows is really an illegal choke hold.
8. Why so many women voted against Hillary:
A. Pressure from their Republican husbands.
B. Believed they were voting against Sir Edmund Hillary.
C. Thought Trump was the Lesser of Two Weasels.
D. Tom Campbell bought their votes.
9. Why did hundreds of thousands of kids march in the streets on Saturday?
A. Late for Trump’s inauguration.
B. I dunno, but it’s a slippery slope.
C. Fox News: If we didn’t report it, it didn’t happen.
D. Practicing for the invasion of Iran
10. What President Trump offered Putin last week:
B. Aid and comfort.
C. Jared Kushner’s security clearance.
D. What’s behind Curtain No. 3.
Bonus: The president is banning them from military service:
D. The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Grading: 11-9: Fine, smarty-pants, but how’s your March Madness bracket looking? 6-8 correct: It’s like you’re psychic. Or a member of the Deep State or something. 3-5 correct: Well, you did better than Kushner. 0-2 correct: Yes, Mr. President, you are a genius. The most bigly smart genius in the world.
North Dakota’s Democrats will hold their state convention in Grand Forks later this week, and the highlight, if there’s to be one, will be choosing a candidate to run for North Dakota’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. So I’ve been thinking a bit about politics and conventions, especially past ones, similar to what we might see this week.
I’m remembering the 1992 North Dakota Democratic-NPL State Convention, which was held at the Bismarck Civic Center. I was helping out with one of the campaigns, so I was at the Civic Center the day before the convention started when word spread like wildfire across the convention floor: Sen. Kent Conrad announced he was not seeking re-election to a second term.
Kent had been elected to the Senate six years earlier in a stunning upset over Mark Andrews. During that campaign, he pledged that he would not stand for re-election if the federal budget deficit had not fallen substantially by the end of his term (a promise that made a lot of us cringe). By 1992, it became obvious that this would not be the case, and although polls showed that the electorate would have welcomed his reneging on that pledge, Conrad considered his promise binding, and said he would not run for re-election.
Kent’s announcement set in motion a chain of events I want to talk about today. But first, let’s go back a little further.
In 1980, Republicans creamed the Democrats. It was the year of the Reagan landslide, and North Dakota was not unlike most states around the country that generally tilt a little Republican. Republicans made big gains in state capitols and legislative chambers. That reduced the ranks of Democrats in both the North Dakota House and Senate — Republicans led 73-27 in the House and 40-10 in the Senate. But there were a couple of surprise winners in the House races — Democrats Earl Pomeroy of Valley City and Bill Heigaard of Langdon.
By the end of the 1983 legislative session (during which I worked for the Democratic-NPL House and Senate caucuses), Minority Leader Dick Backes told me “You watch that Heigaard and Pomeroy — they’re going to be stars.” Backes was right.
In the 1982 election, Heigaard moved over to the Senate, where he eventually became Senate majority leader for four sessions and got his party’s nomination for governor in 1992, only to lose in the primary to Nick Spaeth.
Pomeroy was re-elected in 1982, but in 1984, he ran successfully for North Dakota insurance commissioner, and he was re-elected in 1988.
Which brings us back to 1992. Earlier that year, Pomeroy announced that he was not going to seek re-election. He and his wife were going to join the Peace Corps. They’d be leaving North Dakota at the end of his term, in January 1993. His brother, Glenn, had announced he would seek the job and was about to be endorsed at the state convention.
When the news of Kent’s decision hit the convention floor we all said, “Well, then Byron has to run for the Senate.” Yep.
Byron Dorgan, Kent’s protégé, had been in the U.S. House of Representatives since his election in 1980. He had declined to challenge Andrews in 1986, so Kent ran and was elected. So on that April 1992 morning, Byron wasted no time announcing he would seek Kent’s seat. That left an open seat for the state’s lone congressman’s job.
All eyes turned to Fargo’s John Schneider. Schneider was the Democrats’ floor leader in the North Dakota House of Representatives, widely recognized for his speaking and leadership skills, and was the next star of the Democratic-NPL Party. Earl Pomeroy had announced he was quitting politics, and Heigaard was running for governor, so Schneider was the obvious choice to fill Dorgan’s shoes. He quickly let it be known he was interested in the party’s endorsement for Congress.
But the tug of a U.S. Congress seat was too powerful for Pomeroy to resist. After a long conversation with his wife, Laurie, he sought out Schneider and the two of them talked. And talked. And talked. And then John Schneider blinked. It was an incredibly magnanimous gesture. John likely conceded (not many are privy to those conversations) that Earl, having already won two statewide elections, was probably more electable. John stepped aside.
Earl was elected by a wide margin, and remained in Congress for 18 years, until his defeat by Rick Berg in 2010. John Schneider’s prize was the job of U.S. Attorney for North Dakota in the Clinton years. Sadly, he died young, of a brain tumor in 2001.
All of which brings us to 2018, and the point of all this history I’ve been boring you with. Once again there is an open seat in Congress up for grabs this fall, with Congressman Kevin Cramer’s decision to take on Heidi Heitkamp for a Senate seat.
Late last summer, a young fellow from Fargo named Ben Hanson decided to run for North Dakota’s lone seat in Congress. He’s done an admirable job of raising funds and meeting people, and until last week was the likely nominee of the Democratic-NPL Party. No more. Former State Senator Mac Schneider’s entry into the race last week makes it a likely tossup for the nomination at next week’s state convention. A third candidate, state Sen. John Grabinger, is a nonstarter with those two in the race.
Now, there will be a good number of people, but probably not a majority, at the State Democratic-NPL convention this week, who remember the 1992 convention and John Schneider’s concession to Earl Pomeroy. With those folks, there’ll likely be some sympathy for his nephew, Mac.
And the Schneider family has a long reach. Besides his Uncle John’s prominence, his mother, Mary, is a state representative from Fargo. His dad, Mark, is a former state Democratic-NPL Party chairman. His other uncle, Steve, worked for Pomeroy in the Capitol when Earl was insurance commissioner, and he and his wife, Donna, are longtime party activists. His aunt, Lois, John’s widow, was a longtime employee in Sen. Kent Conrad’s office. Her son, Jasper, Mac’s cousin, is a former state legislator, once a candidate for state tax commissioner, and an Obama administration appointee as North Dakota’s Rural Development director. And Mac’s sister, Libby, last I heard, was managing Heidi Heitkamp’s Senate campaign — unless Heidi turns her loose to run her brother’s campaign if he’s nominated. There won’t be many Democrats at this week’s convention who don’t like the Schneider family and don’t know at least a couple of them.
Mac’s entry into the race at such a late stage, a little more than a week before the party’s nominating convention, is a bit puzzling. Ben Hanson is a solid candidate who’s done everything right so far. He’s built a strong campaign organization, raised a bunch of money — more than $100,000, I think, including, I’d guess (I haven’t seen Ben’s FEC report), a contribution from Mac Schneider, who has said consistently he would not run for anything this year — and has traveled the state tirelessly, all things a Democrat must do in North Dakota to have a chance.
Ben’s talked to pretty much every delegate to next week’s convention and has told me he had pretty much universal support going into the convention. Of course, that was before Schneider and Grabinger got in the race. The test for Hanson now is to hold onto a majority of those delegates in a contested race. Knowing how hard he has campaigned to date, I suspect he’s still on the phone shoring up his support.
So can Schneider’s late entry into the race make any sense? Who, or what, caused him to change his mind? We may find out the answer next week, if Earl Pomeroy gives Mac’s nominating speech. That would make some sense. Earl doesn’t owe the Schneider family anything, but he’s a gracious man, and this would be a good way to thank John Schneider’s widow, Lois, and his brothers (and law partners), Mark and Steve, and the kids and nephews, all of whose lives would have been considerably different back in the 1990s, and beyond, without John’s magnanimity at that 1992 state convention.
In any case, both Hanson and Schneider are good ballot names, and the two who bear them are good candidates. For either, though, it’s a tough race, because they have a near-fatal flaw — they’re Democrats in North Dakota.
And Kelly Armstrong, their likely opponent unless something really weird happens at the subsequent Republican state convention, comes from one of the richest families in western North Dakota. Armstrong’s father, Mike, is an uber-successful oilman, and I’m guessing he’s got at least one more zero in his net worth than the also-rich banker from Grafton, N.D., Tom Campbell, who’ll be duking it out with Armstrong at their convention.
So, attention: Ben Hanson and Mac Schneider: Good luck if you get the nomination. This is going to be an expensive campaign. I’d say you’re going to have to raise a million dollars, at minimum, between now and Election Day, to have a chance because Kelly Armstrong is going to have at least that much, maybe more. Your campaign starts Sunday. There are 233 days between then and Election Day. That means you have to raise at least $4,000 a day, every day, to compete. Starting Sunday. If you don’t raise any money Sunday, you have to raise $8,000 on Monday. And if you don’t raise $8,000 on Monday … well, you get the drift. So don’t let those folks down who voted for you at the convention. Get busy.
The only real thing operating in Hanson and Schneider’s favor is that it’s an open seat, with no incumbent, and that makes it a bit of a wild card in a year when Democrats nationwide are expected to do well in November. Open seats offer at least a chance to anyone running.
History lesson: Open congressional seats
A note about open congressional seats: They don’t happen very often. Here’s a brief history of North Dakota’s congressional representation in what we call North Dakota’s modern political era, since 1960.
North Dakota had two seats in Congress until 1972. We elected two people to Congress at large. In 1960, the two seats were held by Quentin Burdick, a Democrat, and Don Short, a Republican. But our U.S. Senator, William Langer, had died in office and a special election was held in June of that year to replace him. Burdick won, and resigned his seat in the House. Hjalmer Nygaard, a Republican, was elected to replace him in the general election that November.
But before the 1962 election came along, Congress changed things and divided the state into two congressional districts, East and West. In 1962, Short and Nygard were re-elected, Short from the West and Nygaard from the East.
Then Nygaard died in office, and Mark Andrews was elected to replace him from the East. And in 1964, Short was defeated by Democrat Rolland Redlin. Redlin served one term and was defeated by Tom Kleppe in 1966. Kleppe was re-elected in 1968 and then was appointed to serve as Richard Nixon’s Secretary of Interior and did not seek re-election in 1970, the year Art Link won the seat (an open seat) by beating Robert McCarney.
But by the time the1972 election came around,, everything changed. In the congressional reapportionment year of 1971, North Dakota lost one of its two congressional seats, which would have meant that incumbents Link and Andrews would have had to compete in 1972 for the same seat. Link decided instead to run for governor, and won.
So Andrews, having first been elected to Congress in 1962, held the office until 1980, when he moved over to the Senate, and Dorgan was elected to the open seat. Dorgan held it until 1992, when he ran for Senate, and Pomeroy won the open seat. Pomeroy held it until 2010, when he was defeated by Berg, but Berg abandoned it in 2012 to run for the Senate seat being vacated by Dorgan’s retirement. And Cramer was elected to fill the open seat.
So you can see that seats in Congress from North Dakota don’t come open very often. Our congressmen tend to stay in office until they die or are defeated. Since 1970, almost 50 years now, only in 1980, 1992, and 2012 have there been races for an open seat in Congress. Until this year, when Cramer decided to abandon his seat in Congress to run against Heidi Heitkamp for Senate, creating an open seat in Congress.
And that’s why we have so many candidates running for Congress this year.
I laughed the first time I read that, and I’m still laughing every time I think about it. It’s a poem written by a sixth-grader from Turtle Lake, N.D., about Gov. George Sinner’s heart attack in 1991.
It’s a hard day not to be sad, but I’ve been having happy thoughts all day about “The Sinner Years.” There were so many good times over the decade — 1982 through 1992 — that I was lucky enough to be around George Sinner. So today, I want to share some happy stories, and I hope you too will think of happy days around one of North Dakota’s great leaders. He started croakin’ on that July day back in 1991, but it took him a long time to get the job done. Here’s a few of my memories.
Hunting with the Governor
Bud Sinner was not an accomplished hunter — it’s just something Red River Valley farmers didn’t do a lot — but after he moved to Bismarck, he loved getting out in the field.
So whenever I had an outdoors writer or outdoors television show personality in the state to do a hunting story, I’d call and ask him if he’d like to go hunting with us. He almost always said yes. Not only did he enjoy it, but he saw the promotional value in it for the state. And, of course, the writers and TV producers loved being able to do a story about going hunting with a governor.
One day, I had a big-time writer named Thayne Smith in the state, and Wayne Tanous, a friend of mine and lobbyist for Montana Dakota Utilitues, had arranged for us to go hunt at a ranch east of Flasher. The governor came along. Going down state Highway 6 south of Mandan, I was riding shotgun in Wayne’s car and the governor and Thayne were visiting in the back seat. The governor had his big old 10-gauge single-barrel shotgun with him (I swear that old monster was 6 feet long and weighed 15 pounds) and I heard him bragging to Thayne, “I really like shooting this old gun. It shoots straight. I was out with two of my boys a few days ago, and we got our limit. I got five of them and the boys got one between them.”
My heart sank into my boots. The pheasant limit was two then, but “party hunting” was not allowed (although most everybody did it), and the governor of North Dakota had just admitted he shot 2½ times his limit to a writer who was doing a story for Outdoor Life or Field and Stream or some big magazine like that.
Well, when we got to the Meyer ranch near Flasher, I took Thayne aside and said that the governor doesn’t really hunt all that much, and I hoped there wouldn’t be anything about “how good that old 10-gauge worked” in his story. Thayne just smiled and gave me a wink and said, “Nah, we all do it.” Whew.
On another trip down in the same country, I took another big-time writer, Tom Huggler, to Vern Fredrick’s place and the governor came along. There was a little snow on the ground, and the governor didn’t own any hunting boots, so he came in street shoes with four-buckle overshoes on. We were walking along Louse Creek when a pheasant got up and the governor shot it. It landed across the creek, which was pretty narrow at that point, and he walked up to the creek bank, set his gun down, backed up a couple steps, and took a mighty leap to get across the creek. He didn’t make it, and landed in ankle-deep water, just deep enough to get a little water inside his overshoes.
He was game, though. I handed him his gun and he picked up the bird and hunted that side of the creek until we got to a crossing. And hunted a while longer with wet feet. When the story appeared in a magazine, it said, tactfully, “the governor cleared 2 feet of a 3-foot creek.”
Another time we were hunting the same ranch with Tony Dean, who was doing one his outdoors television shows. Our host, Vern Fredrick, was taking us from one end of the ranch to the other. Tony and the governor were riding in the back of Vern’s beat-up old pickup and the cameraman and I were following behind. As we were driving along slowly on a bumpy two-track trail, a pheasant got up beside the pickup. The governor raised up his old 10-gauge and, as we watched in horror, shot at it from the back of the moving pickup. By some miracle, he hit it and it dropped into the field.
He screamed at Vern, “Stop, I got it!” Tony leaned out around to the cab of the pickup and said, “Don’t stop, Vern. It was a hen.” Vern kept going. Tony never mentioned on his show that our governor broke two laws that day — shooting from a vehicle and shooting a hen.
The day we lost the governor
Back in the 1970s and ’80s, North Dakota was part of a five-state tourism consortium with South Dakota, Montana, Wyoming and Nebraska, called the Old West Trail Foundation. Governors were pretty interested in the tourism industry in those days, and from time to time, we’d have a “Tourism Summit,” and the five governors would attend. They were usually held at some nice destination resort, and it was a chance for the five of them to get together and visit and relax.
One year we were in the Black Hills, and in the afternoon, we had some kind of event up at Mount Rushmore. Gov. Sinner’s driver that trip was Bob Jansen, his press secretary. There must have been some kind of big dignitary there because South Dakota Gov. George Mickelson, a good friend of Sinner’s although they wore different political stripes, made a dramatic arrival with someone important, in front of the four faces, in an Army helicopter.
When the ceremony was over, we all headed back to Rapid City, S.D., to our headquarters hotel, the historic Alex Johnson. Shortly after I got to my room, Bob Jansen called me and said he couldn’t find the governor, and asked if he had ridden back from Mount Rushmore with me. I said no, I thought he was riding with you.
Oh, shit, we both thought, we left the Ggovernor up at Mount Rushmore. But we didn’t panic. Not right away. Bob said he would go look around the hotel and I said I would make some calls, and if we couldn’t find him, we’d notify the Highway Patrol. I called the front desk, told them who I was and asked if they would put me through to Gov. Mickelson’s room. They did, and Gov. Mickelson answered the phone. I told him who I was, and said we had misplaced our governor, and asked if he had seen Gov. Sinner.
“Oh, yeah, he hopped on the chopper with me, and we’re just sitting here having a martini,” Mickelson replied. I thanked him and ran out of the room for the elevator to find Bob and tell him where the governor was. Later, at the banquet, Gov. Sinner apologized to both of us for not telling us he was going back on the helicopter. And told us we should probably keep a better eye on him.
In the early spring of 1984, four giant Democrats — Bud Sinner, Art Link, Buckshot Hoffner and Walt Hjelle — were running for the Democratic-NPL endorsement for governor. They were criss-crossing the state, appearing at each of the district conventions seeking delegate support.
Fairly early in the process, they were all in Bismarck for a district convention, and the five of us were gathered just outside the door after they were done speaking — I was executive director of the Democratic-NPL Party at the time. Link was being driven around in a big van by Bob Valeu, but the other three were driving themselves. They were all headed for another convention, in Beulah, I think, and then coming back to Bismarck for the night. Sinner said something like, “Guys, it’s nuts for us to take four cars up there and back. Why don’t you all just ride with me?”
So they all jumped into Sinner’s big blue Ford station wagon and hit the road. That story got out, and the legend spread across the country that in North Dakota, there were four candidates for governor and they were all traveling around the state together campaigning. I don’t know how many more times they did that, but it was a great story at the time. Of course, they were all great friends — they had served together in the Legislature (all but Link were actually in the Legislature at the time), and had all been involved in party politics for many years — so they didn’t find anything unusual about it. But it made for a great story.
A $40,000 newspaper
Sinner won the nomination at the convention, of course, on the third ballot, and set about campaigning against Gov. Allen Olson. Late in the campaign, polls showed a very close race, and we were trying to figure out what we could do to tip the balance in our favor. We thought a tabloid newspaper inserted in every weekly and daily paper in the state would make a difference. The only problem was, that was going to be expensive.
Now, Gov. Sinner wrote about this in his memoir, “Turning Points,” but his recollection of it is different than mine. So I’m just going to tell my version.
What I remember is, George Gaukler, the state Democratic-NPL chairman, and I met with him over coffee and proposed the newspaper idea. He said the campaign was out of money. George asked if he could dig in his pocket. How much would it cost? About $40,000. Uffda. There was a long, agonizing pause. He rubbed his forehead. He rubbed his chin. He shuddered a little. Finally, he said “OK, but you guys have to tell Janie.”
We agreed. We produced an eight-page tabloid over at John Maher’s newspaper shop over the weekend, had it printed, and Jim Sinner and some of his friends loaded it up and drove it to every weekly and daily newspaper office in the state. Bud said later if there was a secret weapon in the campaign, that was it. We all agreed later it was the best $40,000 investment Bud Sinner ever made. And I think we raised the money after the campaign to pay him back.
A Gary Hart problem
As a result of attending National Governor’s Association meetings in the 1980s, Gov. Sinner had gotten to know a little-known governor, Bill Clinton, from Arkansas. And he liked him. So in the spring of 1990, when Clinton was exploring a presidential run, Sinner invited him to speak at our state Democratic-NPL Convention.
Before the speech, Sinner invited some of us into a private room to meet Gov. Clinton. It was just 15 or 20 minutes, but we all got a chance to visit a bit, and then we went out and listened to the speech.
And afterward, Gov. Sinner and I crossed paths somewhere at the convention, and he asked “What did you think of Gov. Clinton?” I replied that I liked him, a lot. “Yeah, I do, too,” the governor said, “but I’m afraid he has a little bit of a Gary Hart problem.” Well, turns out he made Gary Hart look like a Boy Scout. But he was a darn good president.
Bad bull jokes
Gov. Sinner loved to tell jokes, but he wasn’t very good at telling them, and he had a hard time remembering them, so he just told the same ones over and over. He was not a man given to foul language, or to dirty jokes, but he felt his “bull jokes” were pretty risqué, and I guess they were, to him. I’ll try to write them like he told them. God knows I heard them enough times to get them verbatim. (His family and everyone who ever worked for him is groaning now. You’re excused.)
“A fellow over in Minnesota had a prize bull, one of the best in the country, so one Sunday afternoon Janie and I loaded the kids in the station wagon and went to see his bull. (Sinner operated a cattle feedlot, so he now something about bulls.) We pulled into the yard. It was a hot summer day and there was no air conditioning in cars in those days, so there were kids hanging out every window. The fellow came out to meet us, and I said we were there to take a look his famous bull. He looked over at my car and asked, ‘Are all those kids yours?’ I replied that they were. He said, ‘You wait here. I’m going to bring that bull out here and have him take a look at you.’
“A neighbor had a pretty good bull, and I was visiting with him one day and asked what the secret to that bull was. He reached in his pocket and took out a big black pill, and he said, “I give him one of these every day.’ I asked him what was in it. ‘I don’t know,’ he said, ‘but they taste a lot like licorice.’”
“I heard a story about this guy who had taken his wife out for a drive one day and was visiting a neighbor who had a really good bull. So they went to take a look. The neighbor bragged, while they were looking, that the bull was so good that sometimes they bred him 10 times a day. The wife poked her husband with an elbow and said, ‘Did you hear that? Ten times a day!’ The husband turned to the bull’s owner and asked, ‘Same cow?’”
History story — two governors
The last story I want to tell is about the week North Dakota had two governors. I don’t really have to tell it in full because I did that a few years ago, and the story is still on my bog, and I’ll just provide a link to it here.
But to summarize: Bud Sinner was elected in November 1984, to take office in January 1985. Traditionally, governors here take office the day the Legislature convenes, which is the first Tuesday after Jan. 3. But legally, we learned in 1985, the governor can take office on the first day of January. Because, bucking tradition, George Sinner took office on Jan. 1 that year. He did so because outgoing Gov. Allen Olson had not filled two vacancies on the North Dakota Supreme Court, and Sinner’s advisers convinced him that those were two pretty valuable appointments. So Sinner took the oath of office on New Year’s Day, ensconced himself in the governor’s residence (You might recall that Gov. Olson had not lived there, so his kids could stay in the same school they were in before he was elected), and Olson held forth in the Capitol building, until the state’s Supreme Court ruled a day or two later that Sinner was entitled to the office.
The great mystery in all that is why Gov. Olson did not make the two appointments. The chance to appoint even one Supreme Court justice does not come along very often, much less two at once. Olson had ample time to make two appointments, but never got it done, and Sinner appointed two who Olson would not have chosen. It’s a mystery. Maybe one day Gov. Olson will tell us. Meanwhile, it’s a good story and you can go to this old blog post to read it if you want to.
And that’s the end of my reminiscing today. But I won’t stop thinking about my friend Gov. Sinner. I’ll see a bunch of you at the funeral in Fargo. Meanwhile, I hope you’ve enjoyed these stories. I hope I got them right. I tried to tell them as I remembered them, but, as a caveat, I’Il quote my friend Mike Jacobs, who no doubt will write about Gov. Sinner in his regular Tuesday column in the Grand Forks Herald next week: “Never let history get in the way of a good story.”
“Only those are fit to live who do not fear to die; and none are fit to die who have shrunk from the joy of life and the duty of life. Both life and death are parts of the same Great Adventure.” — Theodore Roosevelt
Requiescant in pace — George Albert Sinner 1928-2018.
North Dakota’s district political conventions are about over, and state conventions are coming up, so I thought I might write a few political columns for the next few weeks.
I’ve been hanging out around politics for a few years, and still have a pretty good memory (something my wife would dispute), and I still know a lot of the players on North Dakota’s political scene, so I’m not afraid to do a little speculating and fun-poking.
In just a few days, political parties need to file endorsed candidates for the Legislature with the secretary of state. I live in Bismarck’s District 35. My state senator, Erin Oban, is the only Democrat in the Legislature from Bismarck. But she’s a good one, and Republicans have been having a hard time finding someone to run against her.
Recently, we learned that a fellow named Gary Emineth might be her opponent. You might remember Gary. He’s the guy who called President Obama a POS on his Facebook page, something that CNN picked up on. CNN reported that POS stands for Piece Of Shit. Gary replied that in his world (he’s a businessman) POS means “Point Of Sale,” but that didn’t matter because he really meant to say President Obama was a POTUS (President Of The United States), but he typed it wrong. Uh huh.
Gary’s kind of a political hanger-on who once ran for the Legislature and lost, back in 1984, and served as chairman of the North Dakota Republican Party a few years ago. He’s a nice fellow, but he’s getting a little long in the tooth, and he figured if he’s ever going to have a real political career, it better start this year.
Last summer, our current çongressman, Kevin Cramer, told Gary he was not going to run for the U.S. Senate against Heidi Heitkamp. Gary mulled that over for six months or so. By early this year, it appeared that the only semicredible candidate the Republicans could get to run against Heidi was this banker from Grafton, Tom Campbell, and he just didn’t seem to be the one who could knock off Heidi.
So late in January of this year, Gary made a decision. He’s been in the news quite a lot since then.
And just by chance, this week I came across a series of memos that I am pretty sure I was not supposed to see (no, neither Wikileaks, nor the Clinton campaign, nor the Russians are involved — at least I don’t think so), but they are interesting, so I will share them with you.
DATE: January 31, 2018
FROM: Gary Emineth
TO: North Dakota Republican Party
SUBJECT: My candidacy
Fellow Republicans: I would like members of our party to know that I will be seeking our party’s endorsement for the United States Senate to run against that POS Tom Campbell at our state convention, and if I win there, to run against that POS Heidi Heitkamp in November. I feel I’d be one of the best candidates. I hope I can have your support
* * *
DATE: February 18, 2018
FROM: Gary Emineth
TO: North Dakota Republican Party
SUBJECT: My candidacy
Fellow Republicans: I dropped out of the race for the U.S. Senate when that POS Kevin Cramer decided to run against Heidi, even though he told me he was not going to do that. I thought strongly about running for Kevin’s seat, and was just about to announce my candidacy for the U.S. House of Representatives, when that POS Tom Campbell decided he was going to run for that, and then that POS Kelly Armstrong, the oil guy from Dickinson, also got in, so I am not going to do that. Thanks for thinking about me. If I ever decide to run for something, I hope I can have your support.
* * *
DATE: March 6, 2018
FROM: Gary Emineth
TO: North Dakota Republican Party
SUBJECT: My candidacy
Fellow Republicans: I have decided I want to run for the State Senate from my home district, District 35, here in Bismarck. I wasn’t going to do this, but I learned recently that if I don’t do it, that POS Margaret Sitte is likely to run, and we sure don’t want that to happen. But we need a candidate to run against that POS Erin Oban. So I hope I can have your support.
* * *
DATE: MARCH 7, 2018
FROM: North Dakota Republican Party
TO: Gary Emineth
SUBJECT: Your candidacy
Dear Gary: At this time we are prepared to offer our support for you the position of Assistant Sergeant at Arms in the North Dakota House of Representatives in the 2019 Legislative Session. We don’t yet know who the Chief Sergeant at Arms will be, but we’ll find some POS to take that job and then we’ll recommend you to work for him and be in charge of emptying those POS Legislators’ wastebaskets. It doesn’t pay very much but you get to hang out with a lot of your POS political friends. Please let us know if there is anything else we can do for you.
* * *
Stay tuned. I’ll keep you posted on Gary’s political career.
Word comes this week that the organizing committee for a group of North Dakotans who want to raise North Dakota’s Oil Extraction Tax back to the level it was at before the Legislature cut it in 2015 has decided to postpone its initiated measure campaign. Postpone but not abandon. A wise choice, I’d say.
Although the group already has its petition language approved by the Secretary of State, signature-gathering time is short, and the task becomes even more difficult without the institutional support of organizations that were instrumental in the initial passage of the tax in 1980.
To review: We have an Oil Extraction Tax because of an initiated measure passed by the people of the state by a wide margin nearly 40 years ago. It came during our state’s first short-lived oil boom and was set at 6.5 percent of the price of a barrel of oil, which was added to an existing Oil Production Tax of 5 percent, giving us a total tax on oil of 11.5 percent. One of the highest, if not THE highest in the country.
The measure passed at a time when oil was gushing from the ground in western North Dakota and red ink was gushing from state coffers and agricultural balance sheets after the devastating hard times in agriculture in the 1970s.
The 11.5 percent tax stuck in the craw of the oil industry and Republican politicians for more than 30 years, although Republicans, who generally have governed the state since 1993, enjoyed the fruits of the income from the tax and the budgets it balanced for them.
But finally, in 2015, at the peak of the last oil boom when the state was flush with cash from the oil tax and a humming economy, Republicans mustered the courage to tackle the citizen-initiated tax and cut it from 6.5 percent to 5 percent. It was a devastating miscalculation. Within weeks of the governor signing the bill, oil prices began a death spiral, dropping from more than $60 per barrel to less than $30 (I don’t think there was any relationship between our tax cut and the price of oil, but still … ), and state budgets began bleeding red ink again.
It’s taken until now, more than two years later, for the price of oil to reach above $60 again. That combination of low oil prices and a lower oil tax means legislators have been forced to cut budgets, including some popular programs most North Dakotans like, such as property tax subsidies.
So sponsors of the current proposed initiated measure figured the time was right to go back to the people and ask them to raise the tax back to 6.5 percent. And they’re probably right. But there’s a difference between now and 1980. It’s the players.
Among political observers my age, we speak with reverence and awe of the “Measure 6 Coalition” — and those who organized it. It was probably the most powerful political coalition ever put together in North Dakota. It was the group that passed Measure 6, which created the 6.5 percent Oil Extraction Tax.
It was four organizations, led by four extraordinary men:
The North Dakota Farmers Union and its president, Stanley Moore.
The North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives and its executive director, Chub Ulmer.
The North Dakota Education Association and its executive director, Adrian Dunn.
The North Dakota AFL-CIO and its president, Jim Gerl.
Those four organizations probably represented a third of North Dakota’s population. And their members were activists, willing to rally behind their leaders because of the enormous respect for those four men, longtime leaders, giants of their era. I knew each of them personally and treasured any time they would share with me, sitting at their feet, as I was just entering the world of liberal political activism.
The four were brought together by then-Tax Commissioner Byron Dorgan and two of his chief lieutenants, Kent Conrad and Jim Lange. Dorgan, who had led the successful fight in the 1970s for implementation of a severance tax on coal, was the face of the movement. Conrad was the strategist. Lange was the number cruncher who figured out how and where to get the votes to pass it.
Those were halcyon days for populist activism in North Dakota, but they were nearing their end. 1980 was the year of the Reagan landslide. It was a wave election for Republicans, nationwide and in North Dakota. Republicans won every statewide election here but two in 1980, including the governor’s race, which saw the defeat of incumbent Gov. Art Link by Attorney General Allen Olson.
The only two Democrats to survive that election were the two men who went out on the stump and tirelessly, relentlessly, advocated for the passage of Measure 6, the Oil Extraction Tax: Byron Dorgan and Kent Conrad. Dorgan was leaving his post to run for the U.S. Congress, a seat vacated by Mark Andrews, who was running for the U.S. Senate seat being vacated by the retiring Milton Young. Conrad was running for tax commissioner, to replace Dorgan in that office. Both won by wide margins.
The two were the only Democratic-NPL candidates to campaign on a tax increase in a year when the country was headed inevitably to the right behind Reagan — the rest of the Democratic-NPL ticket shied away. But Dorgan and Conrad had set the stage earlier, with their successful coal tax effort in the mid-1970s. Dorgan had even held a series of debates around the state with then-Republican House Majority Leader Earl Strinden, the two arguing both sides of a coal severance tax. It was classic North Dakota politics, the kind we don’t see any more. And Conrad was Dorgan’s chief strategist, behind the scenes then.
The pair, Dorgan and Concrad, were classic populists, leading the charge first against Big Coal and then Big Oil — and the people embraced them.
But in the end, it was Gerl, Ulmer, Moore and Dunn, the four coalition leaders, and their members, who swept the new oil tax into state law. And that’s what’s missing today. Those organizations, and their leaders.
To be fair, I can’t say whether the four leaders of those organizations today have the leadership capabilities to undertake such an effort, but what is obvious from the words of today’s organizing committee for the new initiated measure, is they are not yet all on board. Nor is there a Byron Dorgan or a Kent Conrad at the ready to lead them.
In the words of the organizing committee’s leaders, which I received in an e-mail today, “What we lack is endorsement from groups and organizations and their communication channels and infrastructure, all of which we need to get our message out to voters.”
Well. That could not be more clear. So they’ve made a timely, wise decision.
The strategy shifts now to the introduction of a measure in the 2019 Legislature to raise the Oil Extraction Tax back to 6.5 percent — an effort not likely to succeed, given the makeup of the Legislature. That’s what the Measure 6 Coalition understood back in 1980, and why they went directly to the people. Still, a concerted effort in the Legislature could attract a lot of attention and set the stage for an initiated measure in 2020.
But the Measure 6 Coalition does not exist today. A new coalition, with new leaders, must be assembled. Of the four leaders from 1980, only Jim Gerl is still alive. I think he’s approaching 80 and spends much time in Florida. But maybe we could get him back here to consult a bit.
I hope that the organizing committee for this effort can succeed in putting a new-old coalition back together. For in that effort lies success.
Most of my Democratic friends have a hard time understanding why I like Kevin Cramer. I think it’s because they’ve never been a part of a brotherhood. Let me explain.
I’m was thinking about this Wednesday because of Gary Emineth’s announcement Tuesday that Kevin Cramer would run for the U.S. Senate against Heidi Heitkamp. Thanks for that, Gary. I’m sure Kevin is grateful as well. Saved him a whole bunch of time and trouble putting together an announcement statement and lining up a place for a press conference and notifying the media and all the rigamarole that goes with announcing a campaign.
A couple of my Republican friends told me they are disappointed in the way things turned out. I think they wanted Emineth to run and Kevin to stay in the House. Well, me too. More about that in a minute.
I’ll give you a couple of names of people who are not disappointed.
Donald Trump and Harold Hamm. The two of them were the most instrumental in getting Kevin to change his mind, after he announced he would seek re-election to the House and not make the race for the Senate. Both put some persuasive pressure on Kevin to run against Heidi, but I’m told it was Hamm who closed the deal, after Trump had called Kevin and been turned down.
I don’t know what Hamm promised, but it must have been significant, because Kevin was pretty sure, to the point of a public announcement, he would seek re-election to what most people consider a safe seat, and now he’s giving up a lot of security on a big gamble.
Well, of course, as of today this is all speculation, because there’s no formal announcement yet from Kevin, and likely no one except Harold and Kevin know what the deal was.
I’m disappointed because I’ve considered Kevin a friend for many years, and I don’t like it when my friends lose elections, no matter what party they belong to. And he’s pretty likely going to lose against Heidi. Which is OK, I guess. Even good, in fact, because Heidi’s been my friend longer than Kevin, and we all know the importance of seniority in politics.
I’ve known Heidi since her 1984 campaign for North Dakota State auditor. Anybody else remember that? I got to know Kevin in 1992, when he was chairman and executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party. He was a good one, unlike most of those party hacks who preceded him. But I need to back up a minute.
I had the job of executive director of the other party, the Democratic-NPL Party, in 1984, the year Bud Sinner got elected governor. I’m not boasting when I say I played a pretty significant role in his election.
After the election, as his transition team began filling available jobs in the Capitol, I got a call from Joe Lamb, who was chairing the transition team, asking me if I wanted a job in government. I said I was pretty happy with what I was doing, but if it meant a pay raise, I’d consider it.
I considered it, but I stayed on in my job with the Democratic-NPL Party until summer, meanwhile looking around at what might be the best job in state government that I dared ask for. I found one. I called Chuck Fleming, who had been Sinner’s campaign manager and then became his chief of staff in the governor’s office, and said a really cool job would be the manager of Lake Metigoshe State Park. I loved parks, and I loved camping, and I loved the Turtle Mountains, and I told Chuck that if I could manage a whole state political party, surely I could manage one square mile in the Turtle Mountains. Chuck said he would see what he could do.
A few days later he called me back and said, “Sorry, but you have to be QUALIFIED to get that job.” Turns out it is a civil service position that falls under the state’s personnel system, not subject to patronage. Dang.
But Chuck had another idea. He said I might make a pretty good State Tourism director, and that job might come available. Well, I didn’t know much about tourism, but I knew enough about marketing, which was what the job was all about, and apparently you didn’t have to be QUALIFIED to take THAT job, so I took it.
I wasn’t prepared for the phone call the next day from a reporter from The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead asking me what my qualifications were to be Tourism director. I stammered out something like “Well, I know the state pretty well, and I’ve camped in every state park in North Dakota …”
The answer looked pretty lame in the paper the next day, but somehow I got by that and had a fun seven years in the Tourism Office.
Fast-forward to November 1992. I resigned from the Tourism Office that fall, and Ed Schafer got elected governor. Not long after the election, I ran into Kevin Cramer at lunch time at the Peacock Alley in downtown Bismarck, and I congratulated him on a great campaign and on getting Ed, who I liked immensely (and who I had voted for), elected governor.
And I said that now precedent had been set — Sinner got elected on my watch, and I became Tourism director — so now it was his turn. And I said, it is the best job in state government (way better than being a state park manager).
Well, it took Kevin a few months to warm to the idea, but eventually he did it, and held that post a few years, joining the Brotherhood of North Dakota Tourism directors. I was only the fourth person to hold that job in the state’s history, and Kevin became the sixth. Ed kept Tracy Potter, who was Deputy Tourism director when I was there, in the job on an interim basis, until Kevin was ready to leave his post with the party and go to work in government, so Tracy was fifth.
The rest is history. Kevin did a fine job, got promoted to Economic Development director, ran for Congress a couple of times and lost (if you went through his bank statements from his 1996 and 1998 campaigns, you’d find a couple of checks from me in there — sorry, Earl), and he finally did get elected to Congress a dozen or so years later.
He should stay there. He can continue to make as many BAD votes there as he wants to without really doing any harm. Although young Ben Hanson, the Democrat running for that job, would give him a pretty good run for his money. It’s going to be a darn good year for Democrats, and Ben’s a darn good candidate, and you never know …
What I do know is that Ben is the third person, behind Trump and Hamm, who’s really happy to see Kevin make the jump, if that is what happens this week. His job as a candidate just got a whole lot easier, no matter who the Republicans run for that seat.
What of Tom Campbell, the only other serious Republican in the Senate race? He’s rich and could primary Cramer, just like Cramer primaried Brian Kalk six years ago. If not, Campbell could run for the House.
But who else might want that House seat? Maybe someone who had it once before, like Rick Berg? That could make for an interesting state convention, and/or primary.
And what of Gary Emineth? Well, he’s embarrassed the party by calling the president of the United States (not the current one, but if the shoe fits …) a Piece Of Shit in a Facebook post and might be tempted, but he’s unlikely to get a party endorsement any more. That’s why he pulled out of the Senate race and made Kevin’s announcement for him.
Could I make a prediction? Well, partly. Anticipating this possibility, young Ben Hanson got out there really early and pretty much has a lock on the Democratic-NPL slot. Smart kid. But an open seat for Congress could draw a flood of Republicans to the race. I wouldn’t be surprised to see as many as half a dozen.
But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves in this Senate race. Let’s wait for Kevin to come home and talk to us.
To paraphrase Priscilla Alden, “Why don’t you speak for yourself, Kevin?”