In today’s angry polarized political environment, I watch my good friend, Heidi Heitkamp being pilloried by the right as being too liberal and the left for being too conservative. To old school politicos such as myself, that tells me that she is probably doing a good job. The Democratic party, even in its hay day, was never all that liberal. The cooperatives, which the hard right compares to borderline communism, has a long-standing relationship with the coal industry. The labor unions also have a long-standing relationship with the coal industry. The coal mining and power plant counties in western North Dakota have some of the highest per capita incomes in the state thanks to the union jobs in the coal industry.
The Farmers Union owns an insurance company which has fought tort reform in opposition to the state’s trial lawyers. Both the Farmer’s Union and the trial lawyers are historic Democratic voters.
Hunting deer, pheasants, geese and ducks in North Dakota are akin to being a surfer in California or a skier in Colorado. They are all potentially dangerous sports. Guns kill innocent people as well as game birds. Every year some surfers drown or are mauled by sharks. Every year some skiers are killed and permanently injured on the slopes. Whether we like it or not, risk taking is considered by many to be a ritual of “manhood”. Wishing that away is admirable, but similar to Linus waiting every Halloween for the Great Pumpkin.
What is my point? The move by some elements of the North Dakota Democratic Party to move it more to the left than the center, in my opinion, is a losing proposition. Governors Bill Guy, Art Link, and George Sinner were not left wingers. All three were center/left on some issues and center/right on some issues. I have had a close relationship with Heidi Heitkamp during my 8-year tour of duty years ago as Vice Chair and then Chair of the North Dakota Senate Judiciary Committee. During that time, Heidi was first North Dakota Tax Commissioner and then North Dakota Attorney General. We did not agree on every issue and some of the things I said and did were frustrating to her. That said, my observations of her were that of a hardworking and genuine person.
Heitkamp is cut from the same political mold as Guy, Link, and Sinner. They all, however, had the luxury of serving North Dakota in a time of less anger. The present balance of the U.S. Senate is close and probably will continue to be close. To me, it makes sense to have a North Dakota Senator from each party representing us in Washington. In the financial world, it’s called hedging. North Dakota has two air force bases and the need for flood control in both Fargo and Minot. One of the biggest trading partners of North Dakota’s agricultural sector is Mexico. Mexico buys huge quantities of soybeans and corn. The federal government has a huge impact on the North Dakota economy. Ask your financial advisors how smart it is to put all your eggs in one basket. I say to the Democrats who think Heidi is too conservative, don’t play to lose. I say to the Republicans who think Heidi is too liberal, who will you turn to during the next flood or the next drought? Independence is great when the cash register is ringing and the angels are singing. It isn’t so great during disasters.