Port: How to not matter

MINOT--The silly spectacle of the Democratic National Convention was all the more sillier for the participation of North Dakota's delegation of liberals.

Rob Port

MINOT-The silly spectacle of the Democratic National Convention was all the more sillier for the participation of North Dakota's delegation of liberals.

For context, remember that the North Dakota Democratic Party hasn't held a majority in the state's Senate chamber in 21 years, or a majority in the state House in the last 31 years. They hold not a single executive branch office in state government. They've had just one candidate win an election on the statewide ballot since congressman-turned-lobbyist Earl Pomeroy defeated Republican Duane Sand in 2008.

That one candidate is sitting U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, and remarkably she's come under fire from the far-left wing of her state party.

In November last year, reporter Mike Nowatzki wrote that some Democrats were "scratching their own heads over what seems like a more right-leaning senator than the person they helped narrowly elect over U.S. Rep. Rick Berg in 2012."

Those liberals were upset that Heitkamp deviated from hidebound progressive ideology on issues like energy and gun control.


"It does present a rather interesting dilemma for the party structure that is trying to convince the voters that they should vote for progressives in the state," Bob Valeu, the immediate past chairman of the state Democratic party, told Nowatzki at the time.

Keep in mind that Heitkamp barely won election over Berg by a margin of a just a few thousand votes, a feat she pulled off by painting herself in copious campaign messaging as an independent minded moderate, yet the state's liberals were cranky that she's not far enough left on the issues.

And still are, apparently. As the Democratic National Convention began, 13 Bernie Sanders-supporting members of the 22-member North Dakota delegation signed a rebuke of Heitkamp for her support of Hillary Clinton.

The document, circulated to the media, accused Heitkamp of being "disrespectful to the people of our great state ... (and) the political process" because the Senator has endorsed Clinton despite Sanders having won the state's caucuses.

In a supreme act of political cowardice, Heitkamp caved to this faction of Sanders fanatics, ultimately casting no vote for her national party's presidential candidate.

Her excuse for not voting was as lame as it was timorous. She claimed a scheduling conflict.

"Sen. Heitkamp had previous commitments at the convention, including speaking at events focused on energy, rural America, and Native communities-all priorities for North Dakota," a statement sent out by the Senator's office said.

Give me a break. When a sitting U.S. Senator chooses not to cast a vote for her political party's candidate that's a calculated political decision. No scheduling conflict would exist if Heitkamp had wanted to cast her vote for Clinton.


Heitkamp's cave to the far-left wing of her party was all the more startling given that we can probably credit Bill Clinton with the Senator's 2012 election-day upset. The former president visited North Dakota twice during that election cycle, headlining successful events which likely helped put Heitkamp over the top.

That Heitkamp would abandon Hillary Clinton at the convention, despite this past support, speaks to just how powerful this faction in the senator's state party has grown.

Which, in turn, probably explains why Democrats can't win many elections in this moderately conservative state.

Their party has moved so far to the left they're irrelevant for a vast swath of the state's voters.

What Democrats have excelled at in the last couple of decades is demonstrating how to not matter.

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