I had some time off work this week, a much too rare phenomena in the world of journalism. And, judging from the stories I saw from the Fargo Forum, the Bismarck Tribune and the Associated Press, it was a busy week in North Dakota politics.
Here’s a quick overview of some of the big news this week, along with handy links to read more about each topic if you’re interested.
Monday, June 21
- A new poll released by Rasmussen Reports showed Republican state Rep. Rick Berg keeping his lead over incumbent Democrat Earl Pomeroy in North Dakota’s U.S. House race. It’s the fifth month Berg had an edge over Pomeroy and the third month for Berg to pull in more than 50 percent of respondents’ support. Monday’s poll showed Berg ahead 51 percent to Pomeroy’s 44 percent; that’s not much of a change since the May poll, which put Berg ahead of Pomeroy 52 to 43 percent. But, one interesting change since May is that 5 percent of people now say they aren’t sure who they’ll vote for in the election – that’s up from 3 percent in the May poll. Not a big change, but it’s one to watch. And keep in mind that change doesn’t necessarily show a real change – the polls margin of sampling error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.
- Not too surprisingly, there has been a political reaction whenever Rasmussen Reports has issued its North Dakota poll results this year. This theme continued Monday as the latest U.S. House results were being analyzed. Tom Nelson, Berg’s campaign manager, issued a statement saying the latest poll "reflects what North Dakota voters are telling Rick Berg every day.
|June 15-16||May 18-19||April 20||March 23||Feb. 9-10|
|Rick Berg (R)||51%||52%||49%||51%||46%|
|Earl Pomeroy (D)||44%||43%||45%||44%||40%|
|Some other candidate||1%||2%||2%||1%||3%|
"North Dakotans are upset because the politicians in Washington have shown time and time again that they’re unwilling to address the tough challenges we face," Nelson said in the written statement. "People across the state are rallying around our campaign because they understand the importance of this election and know that Rick will bring much-needed North Dakota common sense and leadership to Washington."
And the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party had its own response. Party officials have, on multiple occasions this year, gone after Rasmussen Reports because they say it is a biased firm that leans Republican. Party spokesman Meredith Pickett issued a written statement to discuss the latest results, also including a link to a previous Dem-NPL explanation of Rasmussen Report’s "political agenda" and how the firm "skews its polls in favor of Republicans." And the statement also included what Scott Rasmussen’s peers in the polling industry have said about him, along with some examples of statements:
National Journal Pollster Mark Blumenthal: "The firm manages to violate nearly everything I was taught what a good survey should do."
Scott Keeter, director of survey research at Pew Research Center and vice president of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, on Rasmussen’s use of "likely voters": "It paints a picture of an electorate that is potentially madder than it really is. And potentially more conservative than it really is."
Pollster John Zogby: "He has got a conservative constituency, he has Fox News and the Washington Times and Drudge… The conservative result is the one that is going to get a huge level of coverage."
Pickett capped off the statement with a paragraph from the party: "Savvy North Dakotans would be skeptical of Rasmussen’s skewed results. Not only are his methods shoddy, but his Republican bias is clear: he is a former columnist for conservative site WorldNetDaily, a former consultant for the Republican National Committee and George W. Bush’s presidential campaign, and the author of a book that advocated the privatization of Social Security."
Tuesday, June 22
- Keeping up with the trend, Rasmussen Reports issued its poll results for North Dakota’s U.S. Senate race just one day after its U.S. House race results came out. This poll showed Republican Gov. John Hoeven maintaining a strong lead over Democratic-NPL state Sen. Tracy Potter – Hoeven was up 73 percent to Potter’s 19 percent, an increase of 1 percent for Hoeven and a decrease of 4 percent for Potter. The two are competing for the U.S. Senate seat that Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., has held since 1992. The number of undecided respondents went up in June: 6 percent now say they’re unsure, up from the 3 percent who were undecided in May. Again, that change is well within the poll’s 4.5 percentage point margin of error.
- The Democratic-NPL Party once again sent out its statement from Monday discussing what they see as signs of Rasmussen Reports’ bias. "Rasmussen Reports is at it again, this time the second day in a row," they wrote in Tuesday’s statement. "The Republican-leaning pollster has released another poll aimed at helping North Dakota Republicans gain momentum going into the 2010 elections."
- A N.D. Republican Party fundraiser held in Mapleton, N.D., on Tuesday surpassed the party’s fundraising goal, party chairman Gary Emineth said. Bismarck Tribune reporter Rebecca Bietsch wrote that the fundraiser – which featured potential 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney – raised nearly $200,000 for the party. That event was closed to the press, but Forum reporter Kristen Daum was able to get an interview with Romney on Wednesday (more on that later).
- Four Democratic-NPL legislators from western North Dakota counties urged Gov. Hoeven to call a special session of the state legislature to "immediately address development in oil cities and counties." A letter was sent to Hoeven from House Assistant Minority Leader Kenton Onstad, Sen. John Warner, Rep. Tom Conklin and Rep. Shirley Meyer that said the needs in this part of the state are at "an emergency level." As you probably know, North Dakota has a legislative session every other year – meaning the next one won’t begin until early 2011.
|June 15-16||May 18-19||April 20||March 23|
|John Hoeven (R)||73%||72%||69%||68%|
|Tracy Potter (D)||19%||23%||24%||25%|
|Some other candidate||2%||2%||2%||2%|
"In conclusion, waiting six months for the 62nd Legislative session to convene and address roads and bridges in western North Dakota and the additional four months’ wait for funding to be increased would do irreparable harm to our western North Dakota counties," they wrote. "The citizens of North Dakota, along with our oil producing counties, are enjoying an economic boom unparalleled in our state’s history. In return, our roads should not be swallowed up with band-aid approaches that fail to maintain them."
Wednesday, June 23
- Gov. Hoeven will not call a special session to address western North Dakota infrastructure issues, Forum Communications reporter Teri Finneman wrote. Here’s part of that story:
Hoeven spokesman Don Canton said the North Dakota Association of Oil and Gas Producing Counties voted against the idea when it was brought to them last week.
“The fact is, they need more time to prepare for a session, and they acknowledge that,” Canton said.
Jim Arthaud of Medora, a member of the association’s executive committee, confirmed the group wants more time.
“We didn’t think much good would come out of a special session before we have a needs assessment done,” he said.
In the four legislators’ letter to Hoeven, they say waiting six months for the next session and another four months for funding to increase “would do irreparable harm” to the western counties.
They suggest an emergency appropriation to the affected counties and townships, an adjustment to the formula for distribution to the impact counties, or a combination.
- The same Dem-NPL lawmakers who sent the letter to Hoeven on Tuesday responded to Hoeven’s decision to not convene a special session, calling the dismissal of their request "more than disappointing." Here’s more from that response:
"We know that a special session is not likely to be the time for a comprehensive solution. Its purpose is to bring some relief immediately where the need is great and the solutions are too far into the future."
- Rep. Pomeroy issued a statement on the decision to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal as top commander in Afghanistan. In case you haven’t read it yet, this Rolling Stone article caused immediate backlash – it’s worth a read to figure out what happened:
"The comments of General McChrystal and his staff regarding the civilian leadership of this country irreparably damaged his ability to effectively lead the ongoing effort in Afghanistan. In the past few years, the insurgency in Afghanistan has grown much more serious and I believe that this leadership change will allow senior military and civilian leaders to better focus on achieving our objectives in Afghanistan. I first met General Petraeus on my first trip to Iraq seven years ago. I deeply respect his leadership talent and his views, and I believe that he is a perfect choice to take over as commander in Afghanistan."
- North Dakota Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm released the results of a study on North Dakota consumers’ health insurance priorities. You can read more about that study on the state’s Insurance Department website.
- Dem-NPL state Rep. Corey Mock, the challenger to incumbent Republican Al Jaeger in the 2010 secretary of state race, announced Wednesday that he would discuss a request by state Sen. John Warner for an attorney general’s opinion about "recent controversial actions" taken by Jaeger.
That’s a reference to the news that surfaced last week – Jaeger misplaced election paperwork of Libertarian candidate Joshua Voytek, so Voytek’s name wasn’t on the June 8 primary ballot. Jaeger said he would put Voytek on the general election ballot in November, but state law requires at least 300 votes in the primary election to be on the November ballot.
- Mitt Romney was in Fargo Wednesday afternoon as the special guest of the North Dakota Republican Party’s opening of their Fargo Victory Center. Adam Jones, executive director of the party, said adding that office builds on the momentum that began at the state convention this spring.
"Our Victory office in Fargo is critical to electing Governor John Hoeven to the U.S. Senate and replacing Congressman Pomeroy with a new voice in Rick Berg," Jones said in a written statement. "It will be a place for anyone to help lend a hand and elect Republicans across North Dakota."
Fargo Forum reporter Kristen Daum got an interview with Romney and has a story about why he came to North Dakota, as well as how other Republicans in the state thought of the visit. You can read the story on the Forum’s website, and also listen to an audio clip of her interview with Romney.
Thursday, June 24
- Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., announced Thursday that a resolution he authored to "bring greater attention to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder" passed the Senate Wednesday night. That resolution designated June 27 as National PTSD Awareness Day.
"The stress of war can take a toll on one’s heart, mind and soul," Conrad said. "While these wounds may be less visible than others, they are no less real. All too many of our service men and women are returning from battle with PTSD symptoms like anxiety, anger, and depression. More must be done to educate our troops, veterans, families and communities about this illness and the resources and treatments available to them."
- Secretary of state candidate Corey Mock held a press conference Thursday afternoon about the request of an attorney general’s opinion regarding Jaeger’s actions last week. In a written statement, Mock said the purpose of the request wasn’t to keep Voytek (the Libertarian candidate) off the November ballot. He said Voytek deserves to be on that "out of fairness and should not be denied due to the mistakes of others," but added the opinion request is necessary because "we must also honor and respect" state law.
"How did Mr. Jaeger allow critical business documents to be filed for more than six weeks without being seen by himself or an office employee?" Mock wrote. "The most serious questions stemming from the latest gaffe revolve around the delays of operations, lack of accountability by leadership, and eagerness to make up laws without appropriate consultation."
- The North Dakota Republican Party issued a written statement Thursday morning that had Senate Majority Leader Bob Stenehjem and House Majority Leader Al Carlson responding to the request (and denial) of a special legislative session to deal with western North Dakota’s infrastructure issues.
We recognize that oil activity in western North Dakota has created both real benefits and real challenges to that region of our state," they wrote. "However, we believe resources are available right now to address those challenges without a special session."
- U.S. House candidate Rick Berg announced his statewide grassroots leadership team on Thursday.
"I have said from the beginning that this campaign is going to be won from the ground up and we are committed to that purpose," Berg wrote. "We have put together an outstanding group of district captains who are both a wealth of knowledge to the campaign and a force that will continue to push our campaign towards victory in November."
Team Berg is organized by legislative districts; North Dakota has 47 such districts.