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Rob Port: Can Democrats capitalize Republican mismanagement?

North Dakota's Republicans have given Democrats an opening in 2018, but can the liberals exploit it?

Much is made of the utter electoral devastation North Dakota Democrats have suffered in recent election cycles, and rightfully so. Thanks to campaign incompetence, and a myopic adherence to left wing policy priorities a majority of voting North Dakotans care very little for, Democrats are in the wilderness.

In 2018, however, the liberals may have a path back to relevance.

This cycle Democrats will be able to point to a bruising legislative session in which budgets across state government were slashed and brand it fiscal mismanagement.

They will be correct when they do it.

Republicans built enormous budget growth on unsustainable boom-time revenues. From 2007- 2009 to the current 2015-2017 biennium, which ends in June, our state averaged a 25 percent increase in general fund spending every two-year budget cycle.

That includes the spending cuts already implemented in the current budget cycle.

From 2007-2009 to the peak of the oil boom in the 2013-2015 biennium, general fund spending increased a whopping 167 percent.

Republicans spent as though the tidal wave of tax revenues driven into state coffers by high commodity prices would last forever.

Surprise! It didn't.

Republicans can rightly say Democrats weren't exactly urging the majority party to pump the brakes on spending. If anything Democrats complained that the state wasn't spending enough during the oil boom years.

Republicans can also say that Democrats would have tried to fix this budget problem with tax hikes. Already you can hear the Democrats and their media surrogates griping about boom-era tax reforms.

But responsibility for runaway spending can hardly lay with a party which hasn't held a statewide elected office since 2008, or a majority in either legislative chamber since 1994.

Democrats aren't likely to win back a legislative majority, or even an executive branch office, but I expect them to at least ride budget headaches to larger minorities.

But Democrats have their own problems, too.

The party is not unified.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp was heckled recently at a party reorganization meeting by the same contingent of Democrats who passed a resolution condemning her at least year's Democratic National Convention.

Heitkamp also has a primary challenger on her left flank.

Worse, a contingent of Democrats who would like the party to refocus its attention on the sort of rural and economic issues which win elections in North Dakota tell me they're being ignored.

"A number of districts wanted an economic message coming out of the party," a reader who attended the reorganization told me, adding that there was also a desire to communicate to voters that "not all Democrats are against oil."

"They were completely ignored," my source said.

It's not enough for Democrats to give the electorate reasons to vote against Republicans. The

must also stand for something North Dakotans will find worth voting for.