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Heitkamp encourages DSU students to enter politics

Press Photo by Bryan Horwath Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., speaks with a Dickinson State University political science student on Friday evening.

Sen. Heidi Heitkamp said Friday that the North Dakota Legislature could use an infusion of youth.

The state’s Democratic junior senator made her comments while hosting a forum for about a dozen Dickinson State University political science students.

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“I’d love to see more young people in the North Dakota Legislature and more diversity,” Heitkamp said after asking how many in the room planned to run for political office. “I’m not picking on the Legislature, but if they all came from the same spot and their life experiences are identical, do they see problems differently enough to solve problems differently?”

During her hour-long meeting with DSU’s League of Political Scientists, Theodore Roosevelt Scholars, Student Senate members and other faculty members, Heitkamp fielded questions about campaigning for the Senate as a woman, her self-described fight against partisan politics and the most rewarding aspects of her job, among other topics.

Above all, however, Heitkamp encouraged her student onlookers to live “balanced lives” and get involved in the political arena and to have a vision into the future.

“To have this much access to a U.S. senator is great,” said Steven Doherty, DSU assistant professor of political science. “Very few people have that opportunity at such an intimate level. We’re fortunate in that way because we’re a small state. I’ve had several students have the opportunity to go to Washington and be D.C. interns, and they all thought it was the greatest experience they ever had.”

DSU senior Sierra Godfrey-Davis referred to Heitkamp as a “level-headed” person, a trait that she said seems to be lacking in politicians today.

“She doesn’t seem very ideological in her views,” Godfrey-Davis said. “It really seems like she’s a grounded person. I just appreciate the fact that she came here and spent some time with us.”

Heitkamp, who ran unsuccessfully for the governor’s office in North Dakota in 2000, was also asked about her experience running for a major political office as a woman.

“Going back to that 2000 campaign, I wouldn’t say that (being a woman) hurt me,” Heitkamp said. “But here’s an interesting fact — over 50 percent of the women in the U.S. Senate tried to become governor and failed. What is different about running for the Senate than running for governor? I would say running for an executive position is different than running for Senate.”

DSU president D.C. Coston called Friday’s experience a “wonderful opportunity” for the group of students.

“For our students to be able to visit with a public servant from our state was fabulous,” Coston said. “To have a chance for an informal conversation with Sen. Heitkamp and to get a sense of what motivates her and how she conducts her life was great. The students were also able to get some really good advice on how they may go forward in their lives and plan what they might do in the way of public service.”

DSU senior Stephen Polley, a Texas native and student senator, said he plans to attend law school at Texas Tech in the fall, a career path Heitkamp followed before becoming North Dakota’s attorney general.

“I thought she gave us a lot of great advice,” Polley said. “I grew up in a military family and I had the privilege to live in a lot of different places. From my experience, I have noticed that there are a lot of young people who are interested at least in specific issues. Maybe not on top of every situation, but they care about what’s going on. I think there’s a lot of drive from people in their 20s and early 30s.”

One aspect of the political machine that Heitkamp said needs to change is how candidates and campaigns are financed — to which she cited the 1976 Buckley v. Valeo Supreme Court decision — and, she said, it’s the current generation of young people who can do it.

“Money is way out of hand in politics,” said Heitkamp to her audience. “As long as money equals speech, you can’t restrict any money in politics because you can’t restrict free speech. Those with the most money get to speak the loudest.

“The mission for young people interested in running for public office today is to figure out how to take money out. You are masters at free message. Social media and YouTube are free — the challenge is to get your message out without needing to raise millions of dollars.”

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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