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Nelson talks Nonpartisan League leanings in Dickinson

A group of locals gathered on Thursday evening at Dunn Bros. Coffee in Dickinson to sip iced drinks and talk shop with North Dakota Democratic governor candidate Marvin Nelson.

North Dakota Democratic governor candidate Marvin Nelson visited with local constituents over coffee to talk politics Thursday evening at Dunn Bros. Coffee in Dickinson.
Dean Meyer, a former member of the North Dakota Legislature and current chair of the Democratic party in District 36, and his wife Shirley, also a former member of the North Dakota Legislature and current representative of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp in western North Dakota visit with Democratic governor candidate Marvin Nelson over coffee to talk politics Thursday evening at Dunn Bros. Coffee in Dickinson. (Press Photo by Andrew Haffner)

A group of locals gathered on Thursday evening at Dunn Bros. Coffee in Dickinson to sip iced drinks and talk shop with North Dakota Democratic governor candidate Marvin Nelson.

Nelson was in town on a tour of the west as his campaign looks on to the general election in November.

Nelson met with The Press Editorial Board before meeting with constituents at Dunn Bros. to cover topics ranging from the state budget to corporate farming, from radioactive landfills to higher education.

Nelson told The Press he'd been hearing varying feedback about the race from across the state but said he'd caught wind of a "fundamental change happening" in terms of participation from youth, as well as independent and formerly non-participating voters.

"For years, everyone said, 'Oh, the young people, they just won't participate,'" he said. "Well, evidently, it was just nobody ever said anything that they thought was that important."

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Nelson said the spirit of that fundamental change was part of how he viewed the western part of the state as a political region.

"I don't really think of the west so much as Republican or Democrat, as much as Nonpartisan League," he said. "You take that whole movement back then, there was a lot of very active places that saw how big business and government wasn't in their best interests, and really I'd say we're back to that today."

Nelson began his day with a visit to the Economic Development Associations of North Dakota Conference in Bowman, where he and Republican lieutenant governor candidate Brent Sanford fielded questions from the public.

Later on, when he spoke to the coffee group, he said his campaign was headed toward the Nonpartisan League territory.

Nelson cited supporters of Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination as an example of Nonpartisan politics in the modern day. Sanders bested opponent Hillary Clinton in the North Dakota Democratic Caucus earlier this month.

Nelson said he wasn't surprised by the primary victory of his Republican counterpart, businessman Doug Burgum, over state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

He laughed while reflecting on the fact that Burgum attracted a good number of votes from Democrats, but indicated that could have been more a vote against Stenehjem, rather than against Democratic politics.

Nelson repeatedly touched on the environmental impacts of the state's energy industry, both in terms of land affected by coal extraction as well as the expanded oil activity.

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In instances where land has been damaged, either by produced salts or other industry byproducts, he said it's exceedingly difficult for landowners to protect their investments and claim adequate retribution for "dead land" which may be caused by a variety of industry practices.

"That's what's really frustrating, when you've got acres of dead land and there's never been a spill reported-and there's a lot of those," Nelson said during his meeting at The Press.

When pursuing compensation for land damaged by industry activity, he said, landowners can be left to fight an expensive battle that often ends up yield little in the way of restoration.

"People cannot protect themselves," Nelson said of the legal process of securing compensation. "Only the government, in this situation, can protect those people."

His stance on North Dakota's workers' compensation program, Workforce Safety & Insurance, points to an instance where he believes the situation has played out in quite the opposite way.

He told The Press the state's program "violates the social contract" by "treating workers as the enemy" after they're injured on the job.

"I don't know why we expect people to come to North Dakota when all it takes is a slip or an accident at the job, and suddenly the state will use its powers as a state to destroy them," Nelson said. "We have a very unusual system here. We have an insurance company that's a monopoly, but it's more-it's government. We have an insurance company that can write law, and it does."

Later on, while talking oil over coffee, Nelson spoke to an underlying thread between the issues-that "nobody in North Dakota trusts the government."

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He drew a laugh from the group moments later when he used an analogy likening the state's farmers and ranchers to a group of younger students on a school playground. When approached by older, larger students-representative of outside corporate interests-the ranchers should be able to turn to the teacher-state government-for assistance. Instead, Nelson said, the teacher responds by holding down the younger student to take a pummeling from the bigger kids.

When talking about the western oil industry, and specifically leaking pipelines, he said it would be best for everyone to take a more serious angle on non-compliant actors, such as requiring full compliance with criminal investigations and levying fines against those who don't fully cooperate.

"We have some bad eggs out here, some really bad eggs out here," Nelson said. "The sooner we get rid of them, the better it is for everybody. There's nobody that benefits from having those people."

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