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Saving Face While Losing Focus

The other day, Rob Port, North Dakota’s foremost conservative blogger published an article where he laughingly observed that the North Dakota democrats will be starting their convention this week without viable candidates for many of the state offices, including the Governor’s office (SayAnthing.com). In his less than tongue in cheek banter, Port wrote, “…party activists attending will have exactly zero statewide candidates to hear from despite assurance from party leaders that they have candidates ready to announce any day now.”

I suppose this would appear troubling were this any other state with any other political climate, but this is North Dakota.

You see, North Dakota is currently entering what will soon be meltdown mode, regardless of what upbeat narrative the deniers and cheerleaders like Rob Port are trying to sell to the public. While it is true that the oil boom helped propel the North Dakota economy into the stratosphere for most of the past decade, as the recent price crash of worldwide oil prices has shown North Dakota’s republican leadership was unprepared for the gravy train to up and leave town the way that it did. When Governor Jack Dalrymple took the drastic measure of slashing state agencies with a 4 percent across-the-board cuts, it could be argued that this is prudent “conservative budgeting”. However, the fact that he also needed to dip deep into the rainy-day fund to the tune of $500 million, it is hard for anyone – except fanboys like Port – to see the silver lining in this desperate move to save face during an election year.

For years, many outsiders – Republican and Democrat – have been calling for a more diverse investment into the statewide economy. Instead, the Governor and his oil ‘activists’ buried their heads in the sand and pandered to the immediate needs of those companies who moved almost all of their profits out of state during the boom, preferring to use short-term logistics (e.g. ad-hoc offices, temporary housing, contract labor) rather than investing back into North Dakota. The skeletons of man camps, abandoned campers, and half-finished construction projects are a testament to this fact, and will almost certainly be a blot on the landscape for years to come in many of the small towns and countryside of western North Dakota.

Some might agree with those like Port, who see the apparent weakness of the Democratic Party in fielding a competitive candidate for Governor as a sign that the party is giving up. This is almost certainly not the case. Given the state of the economy, and the eventual splatter that must come when the dirty, oil-covered snowball now rolling downhill hits the wall, it actually seems prudent that the Democrats not field high-profile candidates who could challenge the GOP establishment. This economic bust is a sandwich that they built with tax breaks, backroom deals, and a blind eye, now they have to eat it. In a few years, once North Dakota has also had a taste of it, the Democrats can almost certainly come to the kitchen and create a healthy alternative that will be better for the state and nourish the economy.