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Trump wows Dickinson residents; Heitkamp given boost

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Trump spoke to about 700 North Dakotans at Mandan Tesoro Refinery on Wednesday, September 6th. (Submitted Photo) 2 / 2

Amid hurricanes, wildfires and a turbulent national political climate, President Trump found time last week to talk about tax reform at Mandan's Andeavor refinery before hundreds of North Dakotans, including many Dickinson residents, some of them impressed by what the president had to say.

Dickinson-based real estate agent Ninetta Wandler was invited through her position as a member of the board of directors of the North Dakota Association of Realtors.

For Wandler, a longtime Trump supporter, it was her first time seeing the president in person and she was especially impressed on the "personalized" nature of the president's speech.

"(Trump) singled out people in the crowd from North Dakota" and made the speech "come right home to North Dakota," she said, adding the speech was "definitely inspiring and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity."

Neal Messer of Dickinson, also a real estate agent, didn't support Trump in the Republican primaries but came around to him after Trump won the nomination. Messer attended the speech and said the speech felt sincere.

"(Trump) is meeting so much resistance from both parties and (now) he's taken his arguments straight to the people," Messer said. "He was very sincere in his ideas in how he wants to move forward."

Republican state Sen. Kelly Armstrong, District 36, said the White House reached out the North Dakota Republican Party about three to four days in advance of the event. He and his team provided local knowledge, advice on potential sites and help with organizing the event.

Armstrong was pleased the White House decided on the Mandan Andeavor refinery.

"It fits perfectly with North Dakota's oil and gas sector and the types of jobs that Americans want to see brought back to the United States," he said.

Tax reform and Heitkamp

Trump discussed some energy-related issues, but his speech was focused on tax reform. As tax reform talk heats up in Washington, D.C., this fall, the support of moderate Democrats such as Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota will become increasingly important for passage.

Trump surprised some by inviting Heitkamp to the stage in Mandan along with Republican U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer and Republican Sen. John Hoeven.

"Senator Heitkamp, everyone's saying: What's she doing up here? But I'll tell you what: Good woman, and I think we'll have (her) support (on tax reform)," Trump said.

North Dakota and national media sources have pointed out that this statement could aid Heitkamp in a potential Senate re-election bid in 2018. The only declared Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, Tom Campbell, released a statement saying, "Why should our President, who was elected with 63% of the vote (in North Dakota), have to spend taxpayer dollars to hold a rally to persuade Senator Heitkamp to support tax reform?"

Armstrong, chairman of the state Republican Party, said that though Trump inviting Heitkamp onstage may make his job to replace Heitkamp more difficult, he agreed with the president's move.

"Having (Heitkamp) on stage and forcing her support on tax reform was a good political move on the president's part," Armstrong said. "I'll deal with whatever happens later."

Trump's outreach to Heitkamp continued this week when he hosted a private dinner for Heitkamp and five other senators Tuesday evening, Sept. 12 to discuss tax reform.

In a statement released after the the Mandan rally, Heitkamp expressed interest in working with Republicans on tax reform.

"I'm committed to fixing our broken tax code," she said, "and I intend to keep working with both sides of the aisle (to do so)."

The three main tax reform issues Trump discussed were lowering corporate taxes, doubling standard tax deductions and repealing the estate tax.

Armstrong said that though the "devil will be in the details," he supports the three reforms.

"You get more competitive on the world market, you let workers take home more of their paycheck and you let farmers keep their land," he said. "I think those things are great for North Dakotans."

Messer was encouraged by the president's remarks on the estate tax, which would eliminate taxes in inheriting family businesses.

"For people in (the Dickinson) area who are trying to pass along businesses and farms, that's a huge issue," he said.

Democrats have pushed back against repeals of the estate tax saying that it would only benefit a handful of wealthy Americans. Under current law, only estates worth over $11 million are subjected to the estate tax.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Shumer (D-NY) responded to Trump's speech last week saying, "(The estate tax) does not affect the family farmer in North Dakota or anywhere else."

Grady McGregor

Grady McGregor is a city and state politics reporter for The Dickinson Press. He joined The Press in July 2017.

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