Omdahl: Democratic Party In Disarray
The Democratic-NPL party in North Dakota is in such bad shape that even Republicans are shedding tears. However, they’re only crocodile tears.
Republicans will offer sympathy only as long as Democrats can’t muster the strength to be a threat and it appears that North Dakota Democrats will be harmless for the duration.
After the debacle of a state convention, Democrats need to make a critical assessment of their role in the North Dakota political system and start to address the causes of their apparent decline. The state needs a two-party system.
First, the Republicans have done their best to throttle the Democrats by passing laws designed to suppress the Democratic vote with restrictive voter ID laws and with structuring the Legislature to deprive Democrats of their proportionate share of legislative seats.
In fact, Republicans have gerrymandered the legislative districts so that eight could be challenged for violating the constitutional requirement that districts be compact and contiguous. In addition, the two-member districts used for electing state representatives deny Democrats of at least five seats.
This is not to allege that only Republicans do electoral mischief. The Democrats in Massachusetts, Connecticut and other Democratic one-party states are doing the same thing to Republicans. The quest for power is not limited to one party or the other.
But Republicans deserve only partial credit for the decline of the Democratic Party. North Dakota Democrats are victims of national trend to the right. Measuring the dimensions of this shift in North Dakota would require extensive analysis of national, state and legislative elections.
However, a cursory comparison of the votes cast in the presidential elections 1956-1976 and block of more current presidential elections seems to indicate that North Dakota has experienced a seven percent shift to the right. So the conservative trend is one reason for decline of the Democrats.
Then Democratic campaign money dried up. During the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s, the state Democratic Party saw the importation of healthy sums of out-of-state money, siphoned out of Washington by the Democratic Congressional delegation. That money disappeared with the delegation.
Democrats failed to cultivate a stable of potential candidates to challenge the Republicans for the state offices. Too many legislators preferred to keep their seats rather than venture onto the state stage.
Consequently, every biennial convention became a draft of reluctant last-minute candidates from the convention floor. While some excellent candidates appeared for the campaign, the party didn’t.
Structurally, the party structure went to seed and it wasn’t the kind of seed that produced the proverbial grass roots organization needed for success. Precinct organizations disappeared and legislative districts went without officers.
Finally, Democrats did not develop a policy program that would instill enthusiasm in the ranks.
Both parties have a problem dealing with definitions of “liberal” and “conservative” at the state level. They have leaned on the national parties for their philosophical leadership instead of developing their own state-focused ideology.
Because both parties lack their own state-oriented ideologies, they tend to engage in piecemeal warfare, with Republicans offering a minimal response to circumstances and Democrats nit-picking Republican efforts.
To be competitive, the Democrats needs a cohesive agenda that addresses the felt needs of the people and thereby win support of the voting public. Failure to do so suggests that there are no unmet needs in North Dakota.
History may give Democrats a little hope. Without a common enemy, majority parties tend to break up. The politically ambitious will start to disregard convention endorsements; legislative unity will crumble, and factions will evolve.
Maybe the Nonpartisan League will find a place in the wreckage.
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