Democrats will have a full slate of candidates for the three districts in western North Dakota up for election, and it could be a game-changer.
“The fact that we have candidates and people willing to step forward, I think it changes things,” said Chad Oban, executive director of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL. “A lot of people don’t feel that their representatives are going to bat for them when they go to Bismarck and going to bat against people that are running our Legislature.”
District 31 added Fort Yates residents LaDonna Allard and Mike Faith to the state House race. Kristen Vesledahl of Regent will run as the House of Representatives candidate.
Mandy Kubik and Karen Nelson are on the ballot as House candidates in District 37. Keith Fernsler is the Senate candidate. All are from Dickinson.
Greg Tank of Keene and Maddison Voigt of Killdeer will run for the House seats in District 39. Stephanie Pretzer of Scranton is on the ballot as a Senate candidate.
“That’s the way it is supposed to be,” said Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson. “That’s our process. We have choices. The voter has choices. I welcome everybody to the political races.”
Representing the people
Only two Republican candidates from the districts — District 37 House candidate Mike Lefor of Dickinson, and District 39 House candidate Denton Zubke of Watford City — aren’t incumbents.
Oban agreed that people in these districts typically vote Republican. It takes a lot to fill the ballot with Democratic candidates, he said, adding this is the first time in several cycles that District 39 has had any candidates to vote for during elections.
“Areas like 37 and 39 historically haven’t been strong for the Democratic party,” Oban said. “But I think with all the issues that western North Dakota is facing that the (tables) may be turning a little bit and I think we have an opportunity to pick up a few seats.”
Oban referred to House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, claiming Carlson is making decisions for the western counties that don’t represent the people’s best interest. Oban also called out Wardner, who is also up for election in District 37.
“We had Kenton Onstad, (D-Parshall), and Mac Schneider (D-Grand Forks) call for a special session nearly two months ago,” Oban said. “They weren’t joined by any of the Republican legislators that serve in western North Dakota."
He added: “When we called for the special session, Rich Wardner said the next session is only 10 months away. What I would say to that is if you are in Watford City or some of these towns that are feeling the impacts, 10 months is a long ways away. I think people are feeling frustrated that the current representation isn’t filling their needs."
Fernsler agreed, stating in an email that he did not approve of Wardner’s performance in the last legislative session.
“I believe that Dickinson will be better served by a new senator,” he wrote.
‘Money went right to work’
Wardner is adamant that the state doesn’t need a special session, and that Democrats forget how much money the Legislature has allocated to the west.
“You got to understand that there is still over a billion dollars still unspent,” he said. “It is going to get spent this summer.”
The allocations are based on revenue percentages, Wardner added. Estimated revenues from oil production have exceeded previous projections, meaning there will be more revenue than the allocated $1.1 billion.
“I want to remind people that last session we sent out $620 million for state highways early in the session so they could bid the roads,” he said. “Proof, drive Highway 22. It is completely different than it was two years ago. That money went right to work.”
The oil boom has brought wealth to the state, but there are negative impacts, including school funding, escalating rent prices and infrastructure problems, Pretzer said.
“I’m really proud of our state’s prosperity. It is really fun to see North Dakota’s economy in the national media a lot,” Pretzer said. “But, with the positives of a booming economy we are seeing a lot of very unfortunate repercussions.”
Time to choose The issues shouldn’t be a party-based decision, Pretzer said. The people need funds for things that matter, she added.
“It’s so upsetting that it has become a party-issue,” she said. “What it comes down to is who is going to step up to the plate for the communities that need help the most.”
Oban was proud of the Democrat’s variety of candidates — men and women, young and old — who he believes can add a different perspective from western North Dakota.
“We are going to give them a choice between the same old, extreme supermajority of the Republican party and the moderate Democrats that want to work both sides and do what’s right in the communities,” Oban said.
Wardner added people get disappointed when they don’t have choices and he welcomes the challenge.
“People have worked hard in the positions that they have but they will have to defend them this fall,” Wardner said.