January Politics

A lot of politics has been happening in January, while I’ve been closing out the hunting season, opening up the fishing season and playing in the Bad Lands. It’s been such a nice winter, it’s hard to stay inside and sit down at a computer, something a part-time blogger has to do. So today I’ll catch up. Starting at the top.

Newt Gingrich is the new, and perhaps permanent, front-runner for the Republican nomination for President of the United States. I almost choked writing that. I’m still giggling about his win in South Carolina Saturday night, where he got more votes from evangelical Christians than any of the other candidates. Right after the news media carried stories about him shuttling his mistress in his back door as his wife was going out the front. Y’know, it’s one thing for the good old boys in South Carolina saying “Yep, old Newt, he knows how to deal with women, all right,” and casting their votes for him out of admiration, but it’s another when those born once too many times agree with them. You go, Newt. I want you on the fall ballot.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch here in North Dakota, there’s a whole list of politically entertaining things to watch. Starting with the U.S. Senate race. Democratic-NPL candidate Heidi Heitkamp’s polls are telling her that President Obama is a big liability for her this year, so she went after him on his Keystone Pipeline decision. Not just once, but twice. Made me a little nervous. It’s not just that I disagree with her on the President’s decision to stop the pipeline for the time being (I do). But if I were advising her—something I have done from time to time—I’d probably have said that instead of ripping Obama, she might have said that if John Hoeven and his Republican cronies in the U.S. Senate had not introduced legislation to force Obama’s hand on the issue earlier than he wanted to, this situation could have been avoided and pipeline supporters would have had more time to negotiate with the President, and maybe get him to compromise a bit more.

“Heidi,” I’d have said, “it’s January. January is the time to firm up your base, to get rank and file Democrats excited about your candidacy, to recruit the thousands of supporters and volunteers you are going to need this fall to get yourself elected. January is not the time you try to convert Republican voters by bashing the President of your own party, especially on an issue on which most members of your own party agree with the President. There’ll be plenty of time to distance yourself from an unpopular President, if that is what you have to do, later this fall, closer to the election, when people will actually remember what you’ve done.  Not much you do in January will stick with independents and undecided, marginal voters nine months from now.” But then, nobody asked me.

There’s something nagging me about what’s being used as the best argument for North Dakotans to support this pipeline. Lately, it’s been stated as “fact” by Senators and candidates and other supporters that the pipeline would ship 100,000 barrels of oil a day from the Bakken oil field. That has evolved into 100,000 barrels a day from North Dakota. And then the next “fact” that follows is that there will be 500 fewer trucks on North Dakota’s highways as a result. Where does all that come from? I’d like some documentation on that. I’d like to know how that works, and where the signed contracts are.

I mean, how DOES that work? How do they keep our “sweet crude” from getting mixed in with that dirty tar sands oil? Is it gonna be like using one of those dividers you put between your groceries and the guy in front of you on the conveyor at the grocery store, separating the Canadian oil from ours while we quickly put a hundred thousand barrels of OUR oil in the pipe? And how long does it take to pump in that 100,000 barrels? That’s a lot of barrels. Must be some pump. I’m no engineer, but I’d sure like to see THAT operation.

And then, where are the contracts? Is there some proof that there’s going to be 100,000 barrels of our oil shipped out every day? I hope we’re not being played for suckers, to get our support. You know, there’s such a crisis in our oil patch right now that we’re willing to grasp at straws for easy-sounding solutions. But I’m afraid this 100,000 barrels a day “fact” might be one of those things that started out as coffee table speculation and made it through so many incarnations it became believable to those who want to believe. I think, before one more politician uses that “fact” again, he or she should demand to see a written contract, and then we should publish it in the legal notices of the state’s newspapers, so we’re sure of what we’re talking about. Otherwise, I worry that our politicians are just using this to beat up Obama, because the polls say he is a very unpopular man here in North Dakota. Well, he’s not an unpopular man at my house. I’m not going to go into all the good reasons for not building this pipeline, but I trust a lot of really smart people who have stated those reasons, and apparently the President does too. 100,000 barrels a day? I‘ll believe it when I see it, I guess.

Okay, back to politics. Next, let’s talk about Kevin Cramer. To paraphrase a line from a character in one of my favorite western shows, “Kevin, how do you get your pants on in the morning over those big balls of yours?” Kevin sent shock waves over the few media people who actually follow politics in North Dakota, and over his fellow Republicans this week, by announcing he was just going to say “Screw the party and its convention,” and go directly to the Primary Election to secure the Republican nomination for Congress.

As the Forum pointed out, Kevin Cramer “has been a party man all his life . . . he’s run for public office several times as a loyal party member and with the imprimatur of the party apparatus.“ But, “This time, Cramer will preside over an unprecedented political defection from Republican ranks and party orthodoxy.” The Forum went on to say, “He’s made a calculation that he would likely not win the party’s endorsement, so the primary is the only other route he has to run . . .”

Mike Jacobs, in his column  in the Grand Forks Herald, agreed, mostly, and argued that Shane Goettle, the Hoeven favorite, was likely to get the convention endorsement. But Jacobs also recognized that with or without the party’s convention endorsement, Cramer was likely the best candidate in the fall, pointing out there’s no mystery about Cramer’s move.

Well, I’m not so sure they’ve read Cramer’s logic right. Here’s how I see it, as do a few of my knowledgeable Republican friends:

Kevin has raised a good deal of money. He could spend it wooing Republican convention delegates, or he could go ahead and start spending it wisely on a real campaign for the office. Instead of using all his money hiring on-the-ground organizational staff and printing brochures and mailing letters to delegates and throwing parties at the state convention, he can go ahead and prepare his media campaign and use the Primary Election as a way to begin building his popularity for the November election. The other candidates are going to go through the convention process, spend a lot of energy and money, and then not have that money to run against Kevin in the Primary. Or against Pam Gulleson in the fall.

The other flaw in the conventional wisdom—that because Goettle is Hoeven’s choice, he’ll automatically get the convention endorsement—is that it might not be a “Hoeven Convention.” Hoeven’s not on the ballot. He’s comfortably ensconced in Our Nation’s Capital, and is not going to be here, running around the state, campaigning for Goettle, or anyone else, for that matter. The convention could be flooded with conservative “Tea Party” types who have no love for the moderate Hoeven. They’d be more likely to support one of the realistic conservatives in the race, Cramer or Brian Kalk. Cramer could indeed win at the convention.

But Kevin’s not concerned about the party apparatus right now. As I have said before, he wants more than anything in the world to go to Washington, DC. He’s the consummate politician. He’s looked at this from every angle and decided this is the best path. And he’s right. This is his best shot. With a $100,000 media buy in late May and early June, he’ll beat the Republican-endorsed candidate in the Primary and move on to the November campaign. Will it work? Can he win in November? That remains to be seen. If it’s a good Republican year, he’ll go to Congress. If it’s not, he won’t, and the second-guessers will say “I told you so.” In any case, he’s made the political year more interesting.

Not that it’s a dull year. Republican Legislators RaeAnn Kelsch and Tony Grindberg are making sure of that. RaeAnn, the House member from Mandan, and her husband, Tom, don’t like to pay taxes—something every elected official should probably do. She got busted. It looks like she owes the government more than $300,000 in taxes and penalties. I hate to say this, because she used to be a friend of mine—I say “used to be” only because I just don’t see her any more, not that anything specific has happened to cause our friendship to diminish—but she probably ought to just quit politics right now. Oh, because the Democrats in Mandan are in such disarray,  she could probably still be re-elected—after all she did win the last election with the stain of a DUI on her record (I think she left a bar, stopped at a stop light, and promptly fell asleep behind the wheel sitting at the light)—but there needs to be some display of honor and respect for government and the people here, especially after the tawdry display of hauling her family in front of TV cameras the other day when she called a news conference—at Republican headquarters, no less—to say she was sorry.

And Grindberg, the Senator from Fargo, is under scrutiny for double dipping during the Legislative session, taking his NDSU salary AND his Legislative salary at the same time. About a $40,000 double dip, according to the folks at the Say Anything (and they do) blog.

It will be interesting to see if charges are filed against either of them. Kelsch did not pay any income taxes—did not even file a tax return—for six years. Grindberg took $40,000 of state funds he wasn’t entitled to. Could you or I get away with that?

There’s one more Legislative race to keep an early eye on. In the newly-created District 7, a rural Bismarck district, current District 8 Republican Legislator Dwight Wrangham is seeking endorsement for the State Senate. Wrangham, you may remember, got busted for drunk driving last year, and a lot of Republicans are worried that he could become a distraction and an embarrassment for the party. They’ve recruited Nicole Poolman, wife of former Insurance Commissioner Jim Poolman, to challenge Wrangham for the endorsement. Nicole is a teacher and, if her politics are anything like her husband’s, a moderate. Wrangham is neither. It will be interesting to see if this one goes to a Primary contest after the district convention delegates make their choice. Word on the street is that former Republican state chairman Gary Emineth, now a Tea party organizer in North Dakota, and a few of his conservative friends are looking to take on some of the more moderate Republican legislators and candidates in both convention challenges and primary contests. It will be interesting to see if they can build enough support for Wrangham at the convention, or if they have to take him to the Primary. And, I suppose, to see if they get involved in a Cramer-Goettle race for the Congressional seat at the June Primary.

2 thoughts on “January Politics

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