GRAND FORKS - To glimpse the colossal struggle for power between left and right in North Dakota, one only needs to attend the party’s conventions. Both sides are desperate, one to restore, one to preserve control, but only one contrarian viewpoint was revealed during the North Dakota Republican Convention this weekend. Tiffany Abentroth. The rest were already firmly buckled into President Donald Trump’s bandwagon.
Abentroth, a former Marine, did not receive the Republican Party’s endorsement to run for the state’s only Congressional seat, but she was the only person to talk about mending divisions instead of building walls.
“I am concerned with the partisan divide in our House, our Senate,” Abentroth said. “Deeper issues have led to a breakdown in faith, family and community.”
Abentroth slid a political elbow into Congressman Kevin Cramer’s side by saying she doesn’t support all of Trump’s agenda, but still lists herself as a conservative. She is privately funded, and does not represent any large corporate interests, she said.
“Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal, we are all Americans,” Abentroth said. Her race to the U.S. House of Representatives is not finished yet.
“I knew going in that the odds were stacked against me at the convention,” Abentroth said after she lost the party’s endorsement. “I am absolutely moving on to the primary. Let all of North Dakota decide.”
A month after Democrats endorsed candidates running for state political seats, the Republican party held their own convention, affirming many candidates. After flip-flopping back and forth, and only after a political nudge by President Trump, Cramer will run against Senator Heidi Heitkamp for the U.S. Senate.
The North Dakota GOP Convention gaveled in with a red coffee cup at 9 a.m. While Democrats opened their convention with Native drums, Republicans opened with prayer from the lead pastor of Hope Covenant Church, Paul Knight. At the Alerus Center’s entryway, purses and briefcases were searched before allowing entry; doughnuts appeased those who found the procedure intrusive.
Praise for President Trump and his administration’s agenda accompanied nearly every acceptance speech, except for Abentroth’s. Boasting the largest super majority in 50 years, North Dakota Republicans believe the state is no longer being ignored in the nation’s capital and has achieved the recognition it needs from President Trump’s Administration.
Republican talking points included addiction and the opioid crisis, Trump’s border wall, government technological upgrades, China targeting red states with trade tariffs, improving school systems, getting rid of Obamacare, bringing religion into politics, and continuing the fight against human trafficking, all while decreasing the budget. They praised the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, saying that out of the 50 states, North Dakotans will benefit the most from lower taxes.
“Two years ago we had a White House that was frankly hostile to the state of North Dakota,” Governor Doug Burgum said before the North Dakota GOP Convention. “But from the moment President Trump took office our state went from having the wind in our face to the wind at our back.”
Incumbent Attorney General Wayne K. Stenehjem, now the longest serving attorney general in North Dakota’s history, was endorsed to run a sixth term against challenger David Thompson, an attorney, who believes that Stenehjem, Cramer, and others are guilty of Class C felony bribery stemming in part from a 2011 underhanded deal with Continental Resources oil magnate Harold Hamm.
“My office is all about justice and all about mercy,” Stenehjem said. “And it seems like I just got here, but there is more, much more that we need to do.”
“The Attorney General’s office is the people’s law firm and North Dakotans are the clients,” Thompson, the Democratic-NPL candidate for Attorney General, said. “North Dakotans deserve better than wondering where Wayne is when they need him to defend their voting rights and elections as well as their interests on the Industrial Commission. North Dakotans deserve an Attorney General who will always fight for them and not a 16-year incumbent who is nowhere to be seen when North Dakotans need him the most.”
Ryan Rauschenberger, 34, who was arrested for driving under the influence with an alcohol blood level exceeding twice the legal limit and pled guilty in October 2017, was given a third chance, as he was endorsed for North Dakota Tax Commissioner.
Rauschenberger has been in recovery since 2014, and said he talks openly about his addiction, and that he is fit for office.
“My ongoing recovery is important to me and I want to thank my friends and my family for their continued support,” Rauschenberger said.
Former representative and current North Dakota Democratic-NPL chair Kylie Oversen will be campaigning against Rauschenberger, and she questioned Rauschenberger’s commitment in a press release.
“Our current Tax Commissioner was given a second chance to prove he could meet these expectations and he failed,” Oversen said. “North Dakotans deserve better. Further, our Tax Commissioner must be the voice of reason at the table, pushing for lasting property tax relief and strong fiscal policies that meet all of our needs. Rauschenberger has simply not done this. North Dakotans are seeing the outcome of this failure in their higher property tax bills and reduced services, due to budget cuts, across the state.”
Brian Kroshus, former publisher of the Bismarck Tribune, was appointed to the Public Service Commission by Governor Burgum in 2017, and was endorsed to run for the state’s Public Service Commissioner.
Kroshus’s job, as he sees it, is to continue developing affordable and reliable energy, help build a national energy plan, and safeguard changes the state is currently going through.
Current North Dakota Secretary of State Al Jaeger was expected to receive the endorsement to run against Representative Joshua Boschee, a hard hitting Democrat who wants to “drain the prairie,” but late Saturday the Republican Party endorsed Mandan businessman Will Gardner.
"North Dakotans now have a chance to vote for a new Secretary of State," Boschee said in a press release. "This election will provide an opportunity to bring balance to Bismarck in hopes of bringing an end of the deeply partisan rhetoric and action that North Dakotans are growing tired of in DC and Bismarck.”
Five Republican candidates and one Libertarian vied for the state’s only Congressional seat. Tiffany Abentroth, state Senator Tom Campbell, a rancher from Grafton, a man in a support Trump t-shirt, Charles Tuttle, a coach and former oil field worker, Paul Schaffner, and state Senator Kelly Armstrong, an attorney who comes from an oil family with ties to Harold Hamm.
Abentroth was also the only person to publicly address the recent impending trade war with China, and how tariffs on soybeans and pork will affect North Dakotans.
“The impact of the federal debt crowds our domestic savings and dampens domestic growth. Farmers need protection from retaliatory tariffs,” Abentroth said.
Charles Tuttle, who was in a Minot court in 2016 for supporting President Trump by placing temporary Trump signs on an “untraveled public right of way,” also made a bid for the state’s only Congressional seat. He wants to see UND’s Fighting Sioux make a comeback. He supports the Second Amendment, and he also made promises that he would fight for the Congressional seat until the end.
Scott Hennan from AM 1100 "The Flag" nominated Tom Campbell, a person whom the Republican Party has been shunning since he first made his intentions known to run for the U.S. Senate, and then changed his mind to run for Congress.
“There has never been a better time to be a Republican in North Dakota,” Campbell said. “We’ve seen how determined liberals are to block Trump’s agenda. Right now the American Dream is under attack. I want to go to Washington to fight for the American Dream. I am living proof that in America, you can make it.”
He dropped out of the Senate race and decided to run for Congress for party continuity, he said.
Rick Becker, of District seven, and a leader of the Republican’s Bastiat Caucus, a group of people who have been linked to the so-called “Alt-right,” and who also have heavy theocratic leanings, nominated state Senator Kelly Armstrong.
Under the tenants of individual liberty, personal responsibility, and limited government, North Dakota is heading toward a steadier conservative place, Becker said. Instead of focusing on financial profits like many long-term Republicans, Armstrong focuses on something more important, the principles of foundation of responsibility, charity, and fulfillment.
Armstrong confidently took the stage after receiving the North Dakota GOP endorsement, saying that the country works best when government is limited. He will be running against Democrat Mac Schneider, and attorney and former representative, for the U.S. House of Representatives.
"We have seen those competing for the GOP nod for the U.S. House attempt to outdo each other in terms of who will be more loyal to the administration," Schneider said in a press release. "My highest loyalties, on the other hand, are to the people of North Dakota and to the United States Constitution."
Armstrong promised to work for fair trade, limited agricultural legislation, defund Planned Parenthood and move funding to centers that do not perform abortions.
“We can make sure that a puddle in the middle of a corn field is not being regulated by the federal government,” Armstrong said. “Governing by crisis needs to stop.”
He condemned the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, saying he is responsible in part for the ensuing legislative crackdown.
“No longer can an illegal protester hide behind a mask or engage in a riot without facing felony charges,” Armstrong said. “And I am proud to be the only candidate in this race with an A plus rating from the NRA.”
Burgum, Rauschenberger, and others praised the completion of the pipeline saying the project now offers the state tax payments exceeding $10 million per year. Taxes paid will be going in part toward education needs, Rauschenberger said.
“Today we have a lot to celebrate, but we also have a lot for which to prepare,” Burgum said. “Because of our proactive approach to DAPL, we peacefully solved those protests. Today that pipeline is complete and paying dividends to North Dakota… and delivering oil.”
Before Cramer took the stage to accept the GOP’s endorsement, he was called an “unapologetically deep Christian man,” who is pro life, a self-assured politician with theocratic beliefs of bringing religion back into government.
Despite being bolstered by more than 1,335 delegates checked in and registered, North Dakota Republicans appeared worried about the upcoming elections.
“Ladies and gentlemen, America is back,” Cramer said. “But I don’t have to tell you how important this race is. Republicans have 51 seats in the Senate, Democrats have 49. It’s never been more true: one vote matters. Let’s make sure that one vote goes to a Republican who shares our values, and who puts North Dakota first.
“This year’s election is about the very soul of the Senate,” Cramer said. “All of this hangs in the balance because one vote could sway all of these issues to a liberal philosophy.”
Cramer opposes sanctuary cities, wants to dismantle Obamacare, is against net neutrality, and has been widely criticized for being “welded to the hip” of President Trump. He was initially attracted to Trump because of his business savvy, he said.
Cramer said since President Trump took office, he has lifted the oil export ban, a legislative measure his Democratic opponent, Heitkamp, was involved with from the beginning. He has helped pass significant tax cuts, has “drained the swamp” of duplicative legislation, and helped rebuild the military.
“But friends, we could have done better,” Cramer said. “Our efforts are stalled by a Senate whose archaic rules are meant to block our progress. Something has got to change, but change will not happen unless we elect the people who will make this nation great again. It is time to unleash the power of the free enterprise system.”
Like Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Cramer has been criticized for pocketing donations of up to $200,000 while paying his family more than $140,000. Zinke is being investigated for $600,000 in unreported donations to his PAC, and for vacations to Greece and Turkey while installing a $130,000 door, which is nearly the average price of a home in North Dakota.
“I say, ‘No more,’” Cramer said, thumping the podium. “Because I am honored to stand with people like our President. And I’ll take this team over Heidi’s friends any day of the week.”
Heidi’s friends, he said, include former President Obama, U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer, and Hillary Clinton. “When Heitkamp votes against Trump’s policies, it just makes her wrong half of the time,” Cramer said.
Cramer promised to build a government for the people and by the people, and he was met with wide applause, but he offered no methods on how he planned on doing anything different.
A press release from Scott McNeil, executive director North Dakota Democratic-NPL, criticized Cramer’s speech.
“Kevin Cramer talked a lot about how President Trump is standing up for North Dakota, but he failed to mention his support for the president’s tariffs that would devastate North Dakota’s agricultural economy,” McNeil said. “Instead, Cowardly Kevin Cramer has decided to put the president and his political party before North Dakota. He even went so far as to delete a tweet where he initially said he opposed them – cowering in fear of the president and refusing to stand up for North Dakota farmers and ranchers.”
As the ND GOP Convention’s afternoon session began, two protesters entered, walked the breezeway before organizers notified police.
Dexter and Betsy Perkins, of Grand Forks, said they were protesting Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, calling him criminally corrupt. Zinke was the keynote speaker at the ND GOP Convention.
“His job is to protect public lands,” Betsy said. “But he hasn’t done that.”
The couple talked about allowing themselves to get arrested before eventually siding with Grand Forks Police Officer Justin O’Neil, who thanked them for not giving him a headache and leaving the premises.
“There is no free speech here,” Dexter said. “What they’re trying to do is shut down public discourse.”
Zinke, form Montana, and a former Navy SEAL, started his speech by thanking North Dakota for voting Trump into the presidency. He added that historically, states like North Dakota, and Montana, don’t get the spotlight in elections, but this year is different.
“This last election, North Dakota and Montana mattered. Normally we don’t, all of the sudden we mattered, and North Dakota matters not only in energy, but North Dakota represents American values.”
Zinke stressed issues such as increased border security, lower taxes, infrastructure, energy, and rebuilding parks. He is a proponent of strong borders, but also stated he is for properly regulated immigration policies.
“A nation without a border cannot exist,” Zinke said. “I spent a lot of my lifetime fighting for this country, and it is a national security issue to secure our borders, and I am for immigration. Most of us are immigrants. We’re a country of immigration, we embrace innovation, and we’re a country of laws, and laws matter because that is the architecture our founding fathers setup.”
America is now producing 10.6 million barrels of oil a day, Zinke said, and is exporting natural gas for the first time in 60 years. Representing the party line, he wants America to become completely energy self sufficient.
“I don’t want to send our troops overseas to fight for a commodity we have here,” Zinke said.
Although Republicans control the House, the Senate, and the presidency, Zinke said their political fight is far from over.
“You don’t vote for this President, then you don’t vote for the United States,” Zinke said. "This is a battle we’re going to have to fight. This is a battle that we have to win. This is a battle that we’re going to win, because President Trump loves his country. Nobody has the energy President Trump does, but he needs allies that he can count on.”
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