On Politics

SENATOR BERG? MAYBE NOT

As North Dakota Democrats scramble to find an opponent for Rick Berg, our state’s self-appointed next U.S. Senator, perennial candidate Duane Sand has stepped in to fill the breech until Democrats get their act together. In an announcement last week so underwhelming even I, one of the state’s most avid politics-watchers, didn’t hear about it until today, Sand said he would oppose Berg for the Republican nomination at the party’s convention next spring. And then he let Berg have it with both barrels for not being conservative enough.

On his website, Sand trumpets “The Real Story About Rick Berg.” Under a picture of Rick Berg that is bigger than the picture of Sand himself, he offers a link entitled “Read It Here” which takes you to the Heritage Foundation’s website offering on Berg. The headline there reads “Rep. Berg receives a 59% Heritage Action Score.” That website offers:

“Every year, The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, releases scores on each member of Congress. The scorecard allows Americans to see whether their Members of Congress are fighting for freedom, opportunity, prosperity, and civil society. Rep. Rick Berg received a 59% Heritage Action Score in 2011.”

Sand provides a link to the scorecard, which features a bunch of right wing ideas the Heritage Foundation thinks are good ideas. Berg voted against the wishes of the Heritage Foundation 40 per cent of the time.

Right beside that link is the link to Sand’s announcement, which reads, in part:

“For several months I have weighed entering the United States Senate race. Last weeks’ (sic) debt ceiling abomination sealed it for me when Mitch McConnell and Rick Berg misled us with the debt ceiling deal. They could have helped America avoid a downgrade of our AAA rating. Instead they mortgaged our future and let Obama and Reid off the hook with Trillions more debt spending,

“Rick Berg was the only Republican running for Senate to vote for the debt deal. We sent Berg to Washington to cut the size of Government. Instead he’s voted with Nancy Pelosi almost 40 percent of the time since arriving in Washington. For that he expects North Dakotans to promote him?

“I know what it takes to earn a promotion: duty, loyalty, and an unswerving commitment to core principles. Congressmen Berg is a good man, but he simply has not earned a promotion to the Senate. That is why I am announcing my candidacy today for the Republican nomination to the United States Senate.”

In the issues section of his website, Sand goes after Berg again:

“Rick picked political expediency over taking a stand when he voted for the backdoor debt ceiling deal. In just nine short months, he became a creature of Washington, voting for more spending, and siding with Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats 41% of the time. He was also the lone Congressman, running for the U.S. Senate, who voted for the debt ceiling extension this past August, which will add as much as TEN TRILLION DOLLARS to the total federal debt.”

Well. You go, Duane!

Meanwhile, there’s talk in Democratic-NPL circles in North Dakota that recent announcements by Sen. Ryan Taylor and former Rep. Pam Gulleson about races for Governor and U.S. Congress may be leading up to an even bigger announcement by former Attorney General Heidi Heitkamp about the U.S. Senate race. The story goes that polls show Congressman Rick Berg is about as popular right now as another water tanker truck on U.S. Highway 85, and that’s driving Heitkamp to consider a run. The Washington Post reported last week a poll done for the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee shows Berg, in a trial heat against any Democrat, leading by only 4 points, 44-40. An incumbent who’s under 50 per cent against an unnamed opponent is generally in trouble. And his favorable/unfavorable numbers are worse. 33 per cent rate him excellent or good, while 55 per cent rate him either fair or poor. Anyone reading those polls would say his star is fading fast.

Grand Forks Herald Editor Mike Jacobs picked up on all this in his column last Sunday, saying “This (Heitkamp/Gulleson/Taylor) is perhaps the strongest ticket Democrats could hope for in North Dakota . . . In the end, of course, the names of the candidates could be less important than the political climate. In 2010, the political worm turned toward Republicans. It would have to turn the other way to elect any North Dakota Democrats in 2012. Suddenly and unexpectedly, North Dakota Democrats may have a ticket to take advantage of the turn — if it happens.”

We’ll see.

ROUGH RIDERS

Fargo radio talk show host Mike McFeely wrote on his blog this week about Gov. Dalrymple’s most recent appointment to the North Dakota Rough Riders Hall of Fame, the state’s highest award.

“Apparently North Dakota’s Rough Rider Award has morphed into a Chamber of Commerce Lifetime Achievement Trophy. Given recent history, there is no other way to look at it.”

McFeely was commenting on the appointment of Ron Offut a couple weeks ago, following closely on the heels of two other Fargo businessmen, Bill Marcil and Doug Burgum. McFeely goes on:

“. . . there is a disappointing trend in whose portraits are being hung in the state capitol in Bismarck. Three of the last four Rough Rider winners are big-time, fabulously wealthy, good ol’ boy, Fargo (and, it just so happens, Republican) businessmen. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Bill Marcil (Forum Communications), Doug Burgum (Great Plains Software/Microsoft) and Offutt have played important roles in their industries, communities and philanthropic endeavors. They are worthy of state-wide recognition.

“But can we all agree that the Rough Rider Award has taken a right turn somewhere along the way? It once was something that recognized North Dakotans who have achieved great things in the world of entertainment, sports, literature, art, military, education and, yes, business. Now it looks increasingly like a country-club pat on the back.”

Ouch.

But a look at the record is interesting. If you sort the award winners over the years, dating back to Gov. William L. Guy, into rough categories by occupation or areas of achievement, here’s what you get:

Arts – 9

Professionals – 8

Business – 6

Athletics – 4

Military – 4

Education – 3

And a few that don’t really fit any category: Former Secretary of State Warren Christopher, Pioneer Aviator Carl Ben Eielson, longtime Legislator Brynhild Haugland (the only awardee recognized solely for a political career), and Elizabeth Bodine from Hazen, appointed during the International Year of the Child because she had 18 children. You can look at the list here.

I don’t know Ron Offut, but I know and like Marcil and Burgum. Both of them share with me a love of the Bad Lands and both own land and spend time there every year. That makes them good people in my book. Like McFeely, I agree that both should be in the Hall of Fame. But I remember thinking when Marcil got his award about 5 years ago, and still think to this day, that if another businessman is honored, it should be Harold Newman. His is truly a rags to riches story, but more than that, he is so creative, and so loyal to his home state, and so extraordinarily North Dakotan. Besides, he built the world’s largest buffalo, and now, more than 50 years later, it is the true North Dakota icon, and that’s just that, whether you like it or not.

If you read McFeely’s whole blog, you read that he says we should all be recommending people for the award. So here goes. Harold Newman is nearing 80. In spite of McFeely’s skepticism about businessmen, it’s time to get this one done. And then after that, Clay Jenkinson.

RIP, ROLLIE REDLIN

Rollie Redlin died this week. He was 91. Well, sort of. Rollie was a leap year baby in 1920, and if you’d have asked him last week how old he was, he’d probably have said 22. Rollie was a great man, and a man I liked and admired immensely. He’ll be buried on Saturday back in his hometown of Crosby.

I worked for Rollie during the 1981 Legislative session, when he was the Senate Minority Leader. Before that, he had served a term in the U.S. Congress, elected in 1964. I loved it when he would tell me, with excitement in his eyes, what it was like to be a Congressman during that pivotal, historic 89th Congress, the session that enacted Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society programs. He told me how rewarding it was for him, a Democrat, and a liberal one at that, a dirt farmer from North Dakota, to be a member of the Congress and cast his vote on behalf of the people of the West District of North Dakota, for the Voting Rights Act, the creation of Medicare and Medicaid, the founding of the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities, the Highway Beautification Act, the Freedom of Information Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act, among many others.

Rollie spent just one term there, then came back to North Dakota, where he became a banker at First Western Bank in Minot, now the Hoeven bank. And a leader in the Legislature for 15 years or so. Rollie remained active in the community well into his 80’s before he and Chris moved to Rapid City to be closer to family. I called him a few years ago as I was driving to Minot to see if he and Chris could have supper that night, and he said he would sure like to, but Minot High had an important basketball game that night and he and Chris had to be there to cheer the team on.

Rollie served in the Legislature from 1973-1990, during the time of great decisions for our state. The four leaders in the Legislature those years were Earl Strinden and Richard Backes in the House and Rollie and David Nething in the Senate. The four were friends. All were great speakers, but Rollie was an orator. One of the best I ever heard in the Legislature. I’ll miss him.

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