With Tuesday’s election fast approaching, the High Plains Reader decided to take a look at some of North Dakota’s most hotly contested and talked about races. By now, voters may be growing tired of the political ads but it is crunch time for deciding who represents you best. We hope to give some insight into the closest races of the 2014 election cycle.
The most talked about measure on the ballot in North Dakota has to be Measure 1, the “Life begins at Conception” constitutional amendment. While earlier this month, a Forum poll showed Measure 1 being approved by 17 points, last week a Valley News Live poll had Measure 1 being defeated by 6 points. This week marked rallies from anti-Measure 1 supporters in both Fargo and Bismarck.
“I think there’s a lot of passion on both sides of the issue and we’re confident that when people learn about the implications to end of life care and infertility services and pregnancy care, they will decide to vote no,” said Karla Rose Hanson of North Dakotans Against Measure 1.
The measure has attracted national attention because, if enacted, North Dakota would have the most conservative abortion laws in the country. That is precisely the goal of supporters, opponents say, to make North Dakota a stepping stone for other states.
“What happens in North Dakota won’t stay in North Dakota. So if Measure 1 passes, there could be momentum for personhood efforts in other states. That’s why national organizations on both sides of the issue have been paying attention to the race. Personhood has a record of failure though. It has a record of failure twice in Colorado and in Mississippi,” Hanson told HPR. “We know from testimony at the Legislature in 2013 that the primary sponsor Margaret Sitte wants to use this measure as a way to challenge Roe vs. Wade.”
Casual observers have noted the number of signs by Measure 1 supporters as well as letters to the editor that seem to outnumber opponents. Shelle Aberle with ND Choose Life, the group supporting Measure 1, feels their side is headed for success on Election Day.
“Our grassroots effort encompasses thousands and thousands of people across the state; including hundreds of medical professionals, hundreds of churches and faith leaders, dozens of medical facilities along with strong support from Senator John Hoeven and former First Lady Mikey Hoeven, Congressman Kevin Cramer, former Governor Ed Schafer and former First Lady Nancy Schafer and former Lt. Governor Rosemarie Myrdal. Countless numbers of people have united as one voice for Measure 1, that is a win all in itself,” Aberle said.
North Dakota’s lone congressional seat is also up for grabs this Tuesday as it is every two years. This year Congressman Kevin Cramer (R- ND) is being challenged by Democrat George Sinner and Libertarian Jack Seaman. Cramer argues against charges that he is too conservative for North Dakota.
““It’s interesting because conservatives argue that the Boehner agenda is not nearly conservative enough and then Democrats of course everything’s too conservative for them and I think that puts me pretty much in the middle of mainstream North Dakota,” Cramer said. “North Dakotans are conservative but they’re pragmatic. They’re conservative both socially and fiscally and fiscally inasmuch as they don’t want any spending more than the government takes in and they certainly don’t want taxes increased and that’s pretty mainstream for me, that they despise Obamacare, as do I.”
Democrat challenger Sinner thinks it’s pretty clear that Cramer is not in step with mainstream views of North Dakota voters and has sought to point that out in recent debates.
“I think it’s pretty clear he’s too conservative,” Sinner remarked. “And I say that because of some of the polarizing positions he has taken on the issues and that being things like the Ryan budget, which would’ve turned Medicare into a voucher program. He answered a questionnaire from Vote Smart that said that he thought they should’ve privatized Social Security. I think those positions are too far out there for North Dakotans. I don’t believe North Dakotans believe that.”
A couple matters of dispute between Cramer and Sinner is the Farm Bill. While the bill eventually did pass Congress, Sinner said Cramer was involved in the process until very late and did nothing when it looked like the bill wouldn’t pass. Cramer said Sinner is eager to defend Obamacare while Sinner said he only supports the Frontier Amendment, which directly benefits North Dakota hospitals including Fargo’s.
Sinner called into question Cramer’s lack of helping North Dakotans on the job. He claimed Cramer doesn’t desire to do the casework Congressional offices normally handle for individual constituent problems.
“I can’t tell you how many people who have gone to Washington that I’ve heard from that have tried to get an appointment to see him,” Sinner said. “Someone from the Alzheimer’s Society told me, first they called for an appointment and he said no I am sorry I am too busy. Then they were over in the halls of the office building and they ran into him and asked if he had a few minutes and he turned around and walked the other way. Now what kind of a Congressman does that kind of behavior? I just don’t understand it.”
Cramer said he has been very accessible his first term through townhalls and debates during the election. He said constituents have no shortage of ways to reach him.
“I think my qualifications are that I’ve served my first term and I’ve served it well,” Cramer replied. “I’ve served it by being accountable and accessible and we’ve accomplished some things, passed a farm bill, passing a water bill that provides permanent flood relief for Fargo, passing flood insurance relief, passing a skills act that consolidates and makes more efficient skills and technical training and education programs so we’ve had a good first term and I want to put my experience to work for North Dakota in another term.”
Libertarian Jack Seaman has not seen any polls showing him within striking distance. However, he says he still has a shot to win the race.
“My goal has always been to win it and it still is. Yes, the polls are not favorable but there really is only one poll that matters, and that's the one on Nov. 4,” Seaman told HPR.
Seaman said his views on issues that matter to North Dakotans are what sets him apart.
“I deserve election because I have run my entire campaign and would conduct my term in office with one main trait -- honesty. That's all people really want out of their elected representatives, honesty, and no BS. I've set myself apart from my opponents by campaigning this way along with having some very different policy stances. I am the only candidate in the race who will not vote for unbalanced budgets, vote against increases in the debt ceiling, will vote to abolish the IRS, and end our constant military interventions overseas. No other candidate will come close to making these commitments to the voters,” Seaman said.
The battle for North Dakota’s Agriculture Commissioner seat might be the most contested in terms of attention, dollars and efforts by both the Republican and Democrat political parties. Incumbent Commissioner Doug Goehring withstood a convention challenge from a candidate supported by the ND Farm Bureau and some allegations about treatment of staff within the department. Lately polls have shown him ahead but with Democrat challenger Ryan Taylor remaining close enough to make it a race.
The reason the race may be so contested is not only is agriculture the top industry in the state but also the Ag Commissioner has a spot on the ND Industrial Commission, which oversees the ND Department of Mineral Resources, which handles oversight of the oil industry. Taylor said the issues brought up in the convention challenge to Goehring linger.
“The issues within the department itself in terms of the headlines we read a year ago about turnover in the department, about you know the culture in the department and the issues that were raised by employees along with the fact that there was a lot of issues that people were talking about every day in terms of grain on the rails in North Dakota so that we can actually market our products, some of the tensions in the west that are calling out for someone that can balance the agriculture and energy industries so that both industries can be successful,” Taylor remarked.
The biggest issue in the ND Ag Commissioner Race has been delays of farm producers getting the products to market due to over traffic on railroads blamed on the oil industry. Taylor says not enough is being done by Commissioner Goehring to fix the issue.
“We are putting more products on the rail and they see 700,000 barrels of oil getting on the rail every day while their elevator would load a unit and have it sit on the tracks waiting for it to get picked up so that certainly is an issue that needs an Ag Commissioner who can bring people together, who can say we need to use every inch of the pipeline space we’ve got today. We need to make sure our farmers don’t have to pile grain on the ground and allow some of it to spoil as a food product that we all need,” Taylor said.
Commissioner Goehring said they’ve adequately put pressure on the rail companies to resolve the situation and have seen some results.
“When we started to recognize that we had some issues with rail service and working with BNSF,” Goehring said. “Now it took till March of this last year before BNSF started to come up with a better plan for how to deal with the backlog of past due cars and they committed, and I applaud them for this. They stepped up, recognized what the issue is, we need more labor in the system but they also need more grain cars and they were willing to commit to 5,000 more grain cars, 500 more locomotives in the system this year plus 5,000 more employees into the system also to help with those situations.”
Goehring also pushed back on the notion that he has chosen the energy industry over ag producers in terms of regulation during his term.
“I believe this is an attempt just to focus on energy activities out there and not recognize what we’ve already done, what we are doing and what we continue to work on. We’ve adopted flaring rules, a comprehensive energy policy, we’ve looked at removing reserve pits in our oil development and only allowing that for fresh water drilling. I continue to advocate for shrinking that footprint down in that prairie and making sure that we have less of an impact on our farm and ranch community,” Goehring told HPR.
Another statewide race highly focused on is for ND Tax Commissioner which saw incumbent Ryan Rauschenberger take time off the campaign trail to attend treatment for alcohol after a high profile incident in which has car was involved and getting a DUI the same day. His challenger Jason Astrup has made an issue of the treatment and incident in his ads.
“I think what happened really showed people the lack of trust that we could have in the guy. He was hiding a serious addiction problem. There’s a lot of money that flows through that office and we absolutely need to be able to trust that person who is enforcing our tax laws,” Astrup replied.
Rauschenberger said the reaction to his time in treatment from the public has been largely positive and that his opponent attacks on the matter have backfired.
“Frankly, going through treatment is a positive thing when you come out feeling better than ever, feeling energetic and on top of your game. The public, I don’t believe, has been receptive to those claims and those charges about being fit for office. I don’t believe them and I don’t believe the public has bought into that idea either,” Rauschenberger said.
Astup said one party shouldn’t have too much control of governance as is the case right now in North Dakota. He is hoping to break that cycle.
“I think with this much money at stake, you can’t trust one party alone in state government, it needs to be a bipartisan effort. We need to have somebody in there to be a watchdog, to be the advocate for the people,” Astup said.
Rauschenberger said his track record and department experience has earned him re-election for the job of Tax Commissioner.
“Working with the department, we’ve had a very successful run of prudent tax administration and efficient tax administration implementing IT projects ahead of time and under budget,” Rauschenberger said.
These four races could be the closest come Election Day. We will soon see whether any power changes hands in North Dakota.
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