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ND Democrats open state convention with endorsements, Sinner tribute

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Delegates to the ND Democratic convention Samantha Grimm, left, and Connie Triplett look over the program for this weekend's convention at the Alerus Center Friday. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service2 / 5
Delegates to the ND Democratic convention watch a video tribute to former Gov. George Sinner Friday at the convention. Sinner's funeral was earlier in the day in Fargo. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service3 / 5
Grand Forks attorney David Thompson is escorted to the podium to accept the ND Democratic party's nomination to run for Attorney General. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service4 / 5
Former ND Congressman Earl Pomeroy makes his way to the stage at the ND Democratic convention to deliver the keynote address Friday. Eric Hylden / Forum News Service5 / 5

GRAND FORKS—Encouraged by the party's success elsewhere, North Dakota Democrats opened their state convention here Friday, March 16, with hopes of climbing out of the electoral cellar in this Republican-dominated state.

And amid the festivities, attendees remembered the last Democrat to serve as North Dakota's governor, George A. "Bud" Sinner, whose funeral was held Friday morning in Fargo.

Democrats started the election season claiming only one statewide elected officeholder, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who faces a tough re-election challenge this year from Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer. They hold less than one-sixth of the seats in the state Legislature.

But they pointed to Democratic victories in states like Virginia, Alabama and Pennsylvania as evidence that enthusiasm is building ahead of the midterm elections, which will come two years after Donald Trump was elected president. A party spokesman said 660 delegates registered for the Democratic-NPL convention, exceeding totals from recent conventions.

As of the mid-afternoon, 468 delegates were present at the Alerus Center, Democratic-NPL spokesman Daniel Tick said.

"People are seeing that there's support," said Democratic state Rep. Joshua Boschee, who's running for secretary of state this year.

Delegates endorsed candidates for attorney general, agriculture commissioner and two Public Service Commission seats Friday, with most candidates remaining a mystery until they were announced on the stage.

David Thompson, a Grand Forks attorney, was endorsed by Democrats in the attorney general race. He'd face longtime Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, a Republican whom Thompson criticized for taking campaign contributions from oil companies while serving as a member of the Industrial Commission, which regulates the industry.

"North Dakota deserves better," he said.

In an email, Stenehjem said he has "fought for a balanced approach to energy development that grows our economy and jobs, allows for the prudent development of our natural resources and protects the environment."

Democrats endorsed state Sen. Jim Dotzenrod to face Republican Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring. The Wyndmere farmer said withdrawing from trade pacts and imposing tariffs will make it harder to cultivate customers.

"There are some really serious issues, some dark clouds on the horizon, that should be part of the 2018 campaign," Dotzenrod told the Democratic faithful gathered on the arena floor.

Casey Buchmann got the nod to run for the final two years of an unexpired term on the Public Service Commission, a seat currently held by Republican Brian Kroshus. A former publisher of the Bismarck Tribune, Kroshus was appointed by Gov. Doug Burgum last year to fill a vacancy on the three-member commission.

Buchmann, a union ironworker from Washburn, called for independent studies of oil and natural gas pipelines to ensure their safety and for grain elevators to be "modernized." He criticized utility rate increases.

Later, Democrats endorsed Jean Brandt, a retired human resources administrator for an oil field services company from Kramer, to challenge current PSC Chairman Randy Christmann, a Republican.

Democrats remembered Sinner, who served as governor from 1985 to 1992, with a video tribute Friday afternoon. He died March 9 at the age of 89.

Former Congressman Earl Pomeroy called Sinner a "uniquely lovable" man who could brighten the "darkest of days." But he rallied the convention crowd amid their loss, arguing the former governor would want Democrats to get to work and win elections.

"The last thing Bud Sinner would want is a bunch of sad-faced Democrats sitting around thinking about the old times," Pomeroy said.

Democrats will return to the Alerus Center Saturday, when former Vice President Joe Biden is scheduled to speak and delegates are expected to endorse Heitkamp and a candidate for the U.S. House, along with other statewide seats.

John Hageman

John Hageman covers North Dakota politics from the Forum News Service bureau in Bismarck. He attended the University of Minnesota in the Twin Cities, where he studied journalism and political science, and he previously worked at the Grand Forks Herald and Bemidji Pioneer.  

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