GRAND FORKS -- The challenge to state House of Representatives powerhouse Jeff Delzer is not the only race of interest in the upcoming North Dakota primary. Political careers are on the line, and not Delzer’s alone. Newcomers have challenged him in District 8, a big swath of territory north and west of Bismarck.
A contest of a slightly different kind has developed in District 28, another big swath of territory, this one running to the south and east of Bismarck. Two incumbents are seeking re-election there. They are Jeff Magrum of Hazelton, first elected in 2016, and Mike Brandenberg of Edgeley, who’s been in the House for 20 years, though not continuously. A third House member has announced his candidacy. Jim Grueneich has represented District 12 since 2016, but he’s moving from Jamestown to Ellendale, which is in the far southeastern corner of District 28. That means three incumbents on the same ballot, and only two seats.
That’s interesting enough by itself, but the situation is more interesting still. District 28 had a bitter primary fight in 2016, when Rep. Bill Kretschmar of Venturia lost his seat. A senior member of the House, Kretschmar chaired the Judiciary Committee. Magrum, his replacement, has been a faithful member of the right-leaning “Bastiat Caucus.” In fact, Kretschmar’s defeat was one of the triumphs of the party’s organizing campaign.
Magrum and Brandenberg have been at loggerheads, especially over wind energy. Brandenberg is a proponent, so much so that he’s called “Windy Brandenberg” (or maybe that precedes his advocacy for wind energy). Magrum has championed landowner rights against wind energy developers. Gruenich chairs the Legislature’ interim Taxation Committee, which indicates that he’s close to party leadership.
Delzer is the only incumbent running in District 8. His seatmate, Vernon Lanning, is retiring after eight years; newcomers have announced and they’re running as a team. After initial publicity about the race – including this column – Lanning wrote The Bismarck Tribune to endorse Delzer.
The intent of last week’s column was to highlight a developing challenge to an important legislative figure, to provide context and to speculate about why it had developed.
The motive in District 28 is fairly clear; private circumstance and personal ambition. Gruenich’s wife has taken a job in Ellendale, and his own employment involves travel, so his ambition is portable. The motive in District 8 is less clear. It could be political ambition. Certainly, candidates must want the job if they seek it. Who recruited the candidates is another matter, of course, but the political situation and the political grapevine both suggest that Gov. Doug Burgum is involved, because he has the most at stake.
Meanwhile, Democrats are having trouble finding legislative candidates. At this rate, they’ll likely forfeit more seats than they have in at least 60 years, since the merger with the Nonpartisan League. For the first time since 1958, Democrats hold no statewide or federal offices in the state. Democrats have announced for offices at the top of the ballot, Zach Raknerud for the U.S. House, and Shelly Lentz for governor. Raknerud ran for the Legislature in a Minot district last cycle; Lentz, a veterinarian in Killdeer and Bismarck, has been a school board member. This is an “off-year” as far as the U.S Senate is concerned. John Hoeven’s term ends in 2022; Kevin Cramer’s in 2024.
A point of personal privilege: Newspaper columnists should stick to their assigned territory, I’ve always believed, and when this column began in 2014, I told Korrie Wenzel, my successor as publisher of the Herald, that I’d write about North Dakota politics and “spy on the neighbors” once in a while. Wenzel responded that columnists had leeway to pick other topics now and again, but not often.
This is one of those times, I think, because, like Mitt Romney, I want to leave a record of my concern for America. In his State of the Union address, President Trump bragged about “The Great American Comeback.” To me his administration would better be called “The Great American Rollback.” From wetland easements boundaries and the global climate accord; from an important alliance with the Kurds; from support for Ukraine against Putin’s Russia; from trade agreements that have helped enrich our farmers while improving our diets. These are policy issues. I relish differences on policy issues; they are the stuff of politics. Likewise with constitutional issues.
But the president also has abandoned civil discourse and personal decorum, fostered division, created a cult of personality by slandering opponents and bullying supporters, who accept his behavior without a whimper, including members of our state’s own congressional delegation, all of whom I know to be decent people, yet they tolerate Trump’s indecency.
Probably it was a mistake for Democrats to have begun impeachment proceedings. Better, maybe, to let American voters judge of the president’s behavior rather than leaving it to the Republican chorus.
We’ll all be judges in the fall, and for the love of my country, I will vote guilty. If you don’t like it, you can pull a Pelosi and rip up this column. Don't try this if you're reading online, though. You could hurt your hands.
Mike Jacobs is a former editor and publisher of the Herald.