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Mike Jacobs: N.D. Republicans up the ante for candidates

Chairman Perrie Schafer justified recent changes by arguing that the state party “provides lots of support to whomever is the endorsed candidate.”

Mike Jacobs
Mike Jacobs
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The North Dakota Republican Party is upping the ante. Its state committee decided last month to impose a fee for those seeking party endorsement for statewide office. Candidates for most state office candidates would have to pay $2,500. Congressional candidates would pay $3,500. For candidates for the “big ticket offices” of governor and U.S. senator, the fee would be $5,000. Only candidates for lieutenant governor would be spared. They campaign on a ticket with the gubernatorial candidate.

From a strictly financial perspective, this makes sense. Political parties do have bills to pay. Politically, the plan might be a little dicier, because there’s a second plank in the program. Candidates would have to gather signatures from party chairs in 10 districts, double the number that’s now required.

This information is on the front page of the Bismarck Tribune for Saturday, Jan. 8, which arrived in my mailbox at midweek, after the deadline for last week’s column. The Tribune’s political reporter, Jack Dura, wrote the article.

Dura managed to find a critic of the plan, former Gov. Ed Schafer, who said the new rules put up unnecessary barriers.

That might happen with some of the fringe candidates that seem to dog Republican politics. It’s unlikely to drive away the deeply committed, but it might deter someone with less fervor and other ideas about how to spend money.

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Another possible outcome is more clarity about who stands for what at election time. In recent election cycles, the job of district chairs has become more politicized as rifts within the Republican Party widen.

Perrie Schafer, a Mandan businessman who is Republican Party chair, denied that motive. Preclusion of candidates “wasn’t discussed at the State Committee meeting,” he told reporter Dura.

Where the money comes from is another potential wrinkle. Some would-be candidates might be reluctant to part with $2,500 from their own account for a shot at statewide office or $5,000 for a U.S. Senate seat. It’s not clear whether the money would be reportable campaign donations.

Chairman Schafer justified the changes by arguing that the state party “provides lots of support to whomever is the endorsed candidate.” That’s certainly true, since Republicans have a lock on all the statewide offices and are likely to hold on to all of the offices for the foreseeable future.

“The state committee decided that a series of fees and other criteria was in order to help with costs and to make sure the candidate has the ability to raise money and support a run for office.”

Again, the quotes come from Dura’s piece in the Tribune.

Former Gov. Schafer’s attack on the idea went further, suggesting that it may clear “a trail here that goes ‘We develop our governmental leaders by the wealthy and the elite.’ I don’t think that’s a good idea.”

All of this occurs as ideological differences have sharpened in the Republican Party, especially in the state Legislature, where there are at least three substantial blocs. One might be called what might be called “mainstream Republicans.” A second group might be thought of as libertarians or “constitutional conservatives.” They are loosely organized in the state House as the so-called “Bastiat Caucus.” The third focuses largely on social and moral issues. For much of the last session, this was the most vocal group.

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Legislative candidates won’t have to pay for endorsements, but legislators often seek statewide or federal office.

This election cycle is likely to be more sharply focused on these kinds of issues, many of which arose at the regular session last winter and at the special session in November last year. Plus, an unusually large number of seats are at stake this year. More than two-thirds of the Legislature’s 147 seats will be on the ballot in November.

Among them are seats that had been occupied by party floor leaders. Chet Pollert of Carrington, the House Republican leader, became the latest retiree on Jan. 10, when he said he plans to be “fully retired” when his current term ends. He sold his grain-handling business last year and plans to spend time on his motorcycle.

Pollert positioned himself as a consensus builder. He’s among the thoughtful “Main Street” Republicans who still make up the largest bloc in the state House.

Republican Senate leader Rich Wardner of Dickinson announced his plans soon after the special session. Joan Hekaman, leader of Senate Democrats, lost her seat to reapportionment. That leaves only one of the current floor leaders planning to run for re-election, Josh Boschee of Fargo, the House Democratic leader.

Floor leaders will be chosen after the general election in November.

District endorsing conventions may signal the direction of the Republican Party and the tone of the campaign, as well. For the most part, these will be held in March, ahead of the state convention in April. The primary election is June 14.

Mike Jacobs is a former editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald.

Related Topics: MIKE JACOBS
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