FARGO, N.D. — North Dakota Democrats, seeking to break the Republicans' monopoly on state offices, nominated on Friday a cowboy scribe and former state senator who pledged to bring balance to state government if he's elected agriculture commissioner.
Ryan Taylor, the Towner rancher and syndicated columnist who two years ago accepted the unenviable task of running as the Democratic candidate for governor, wrapped up the opening day of the convention by accepting the endorsement for a race that party faithful believe is within reach.
"Nobody is better at communicating agriculture's message than Ryan Taylor," Scott Stofferahn, longtime aide to former North Dakota Sen. Kent Conrad, said in nominating Taylor. "He is one of our party's most beloved figures."
Republicans swept all state offices in the last election and have long held majorities in the Legislature. Democrats repeated Friday that one-party rule is bad for the state and criticized Republican leaders for their handling of numerous recent oil spills and the illegal dumping of radioactive waste.
Taylor, 43, told delegates in a speech he wrote himself that the state has not done a good job ensuring that agriculture and oil development can exist together. He said the agriculture commissioner plays a key role in administering those rules as a member of the industrial commission, along with the governor and secretary of state.
Taylor, who writes a bimonthly column called "Cowboy Logic," said most of the "good companies and good people" in the oil industry are following state laws. He said he would tell the story and "sing the praises" of people who go about their business responsibly.
"But to the irresponsible, to the disrespectful, to the flagrant violators of our trust," Taylor said, raising his voice. "I will not ignore your crimes. I will not make excuses for your actions. I will not forgive your fines, and I will not reduce the debt you owe our grandchildren to clean it up when you are gone."
Those comments drew the loudest applause of the day. The convention wraps up Saturday with three more endorsements, including one for the U.S. House of Representatives race.
While Taylor needed no introduction to the delegates assembled Friday, the group also endorsed three relative newcomers.
Tyler Axness, fresh off one term in the state Senate, was nominated for a two-year term on the Public Service Commission. Kiara Kraus-Parr, the endorsed candidate for attorney general, and Jason Astrup, the choice for tax commissioner, are running their first campaigns for public office.
Axness, 27, is communications and policy coordinator for Freedom Resource Center, a disability rights organization. He was elected to the state Senate in 2011 in a newly created Fargo district that Sen. Mac Schneider, the Democratic minority leader, said was "drawn block by block" by Republican House Majority Leader Al Carlson. Axness surprised the GOP, Schneider said in nominating the Public Service Commission candidate.
"That didn't work well for Al Carlson, but it did work out well for North Dakota," Schneider said.
Longtime delegate Shirley Meyer, a farmer and rancher from Dickinson, said she likes Axness because he believes development must be "measured and planned." She said he's an eastern legislator "sticking up for us in western North Dakota."
Meyer ended her seconding speech by criticizing current PSC members and said, "Let's give them the 'Ax.'"
Astrup, a business law and tax attorney, began his speech with background information that included his date of birth.
"So I'm not as young as some people think I look," he said. "I'm 34 years old for those of you who are trying to do some quick math in your head."
Kraus-Parr, 36, an attorney and adjunct law professor at the University of North Dakota, was not at the convention because she's helping UND law school students in an energy law competition in West Virginia. She accepted her nomination in a videotaped speech.