Requiescant in Pace, North Dakota Democrats

Here’s my short analysis of yesterday’s election results in North Dakota.

There were 69 Legislative seats on the ballot across the state in 23 Legislative Districts. One Senate seat and two House seats in each district. Republicans won 65 of those seats. Democrats won 4. The absolute worst performance by a political party (excluding fringe parties) in state history.

RIP, North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party.

Some observers, including this one, believed that North Dakota Democrats might begin emerging this year from the abyss they’ve dropped themselves into the last few elections. Boy were we wrong.

Not only did the Democrats fail to make any Legislative gains, but they actually lost four of the few Legislative seats they hold, including three veteran State Senators in eastern North Dakota, traditionally the strongest part of the state for their party.

Gone are Jim Dotzenrod from southeast North Dakota’s District 26, a 26-year veteran of the Senate first elected in 1978, who lost to a turncoat Heitkamp named Jason, likely the only Republican Heitkamp in America; Larry Robinson, from Valley City’s District 24, who has served 32 years in the Senate; and John Grabinger, the Party’s assistant floor leader in the Senate, first elected in 2012 and seeking his third Senate victory.

That’s some big timber missing from next Legislative Session. And some big wins for the Republicans. Those three districts have historically been well-organized and good to Democrats. Now they’re all Red.  

The other Democratic-NPL seat lost Tuesday was in District 20, mostly Traill County, where Rep. Rick Holman chose not to run for re-election and a Republican won his seat. District 20 used to be a solid Democrat district until Republicans gerrymandered it up, adding a bunch of Republican precincts from other counties in the last reapportionment. With Tuesday’s election, their coup is complete.

The only four Democrats who managed to win their elections Tuesday were the three from Fargo’s District 44, incumbents Sen. Merrill Piepkorn and Representatives Josh Boschee, the Democrats’ Floor Leader and Karla Rose Hanson (whose election just tickles me, because her dad Mike Rose and I are old, old friends, dating back to our days in Dickinson in the early 1970s), and Rep. Corey Mock in Grand Forks’ District 18.

Every other Democrat running for election or re-election Tuesday got beat. Every one. Including every candidate on the statewide ballot. Every one. The best showing of any Democrat on the statewide ticket was Mark Haugen, candidate for State Treasurer, who got 34 per cent of the vote.

So here’s the count in the Legislature now. In the Senate, it’s 40 Republicans and 7 Democrats. In the House its 80 Republicans and 14 Democrats. Twenty-one Democrats out of 141 Legislators. That’s the most lopsided the Legislature has been since the 1967 Legislative Session, when Democrats had just 5 Senators and 15 House members—a total of 20 Democratic-NPL Legislators, compared to the upcoming 2021 session, which will have 21.

Now here’s something that puzzles me. At the end of the last Legislative Session, Republicans put two (really bad) constitutional measures on the ballot for voters to consider in Tuesday’s election. In spite of the fact voters soundly defeated the two measures, by margins of 73-27 on Measure 1 and 62-38 on Measure 2, they re-elected every single one of those Legislators who placed the measures on the ballot. Go figure.

One might have thought that the Democrats could have seized on the unpopularity of the two measures as a campaign issue against those who put them on the ballot. “My opponent wants to take away your right to use the initiated measure, as provided for in our state constitution.” Looks like a missed opportunity to me. And a lack of vision and leadership.

Here’s another puzzle. President Donald Trump and Governor Doug Burgum each got about 235,000 votes in North Dakota. Joe Biden got 114,000 votes for President, but Democratic-NPL governor candidate Shelley Lenz only got 90,000, almost 24,000 votes fewer than Biden. What’s up with that?

Well, 31,000 voters didn’t vote for either Burgum or Lenz, choosing instead one of a pair of fringe candidates. Votes for Libertarian candidate DuWayne Hendrickson and the strange write-in candidacy of Michael Coachman accounted for those 31,000 votes. And I’d say a lot of those 31,000 voters also voted for Trump, but also a lot of moderate and sensible Burgum voters just couldn’t force themselves to vote for Trump and voted for Biden, and that’s why Biden got so many more votes than Lenz. That’s about the only logical explanation I can come up with.

Finally, as a fitting example of exactly how bad things are for us Democrats in North Dakota, voters in Legislative District 8, by an overwhelming margin, elected a dead man to the Legislature. I can’t imagine anything as maudlin as looking down at my ballot, seeing the name of a dead candidate, and voting for him. But almost 6,000 people did that. Fewer than 2,000 voted for either of the two living Democratic-NPL candidates.

That will tell you just far into the depths of despair the North Dakota Democrats have fallen. Voters chose to elect a dead Republican over a live Democrat. It can’t possibly get any worse than that for any political party, anywhere, any time.

Requiescant in Pace, North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party.

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