When Mike Seminary was elected Bismarck mayor nearly four years ago he ran uncontested. It wasn’t his fault no one else wanted to pursue the office, but it was unfortunate there was no exchange of ideas that comes when there’s competition in an election.
Seminary had the stage to himself where he could present his platform without being challenged. That’s not the case this year since Seminary already has two announced opponents and the filing deadline isn't until 4 p.m. April 9. So the race could become more crowded and that would be a good situation for Bismarck residents. The city has encountered some bumps lately with the slump in the Bakken, the drought and falling commodity prices. Still, there’s no reason to believe Bismarck doesn’t have a bright future.
There has been growth as the city expands to the north and efforts continue to re-energize the downtown district. New restaurants and stores seem to pop up on a daily basis. Growing communities need guidance from strong leaders and that’s what makes the June election important. Residents have a variety of ideas on how they would like to see the city developed and this is a chance to find a candidate who fits their goals. On the state level, Gov. Doug Burgum is stressing his Main Street Initiative for communities across the state. This could become an issue in the election.
Voters should care deeply about this election. Who is elected mayor and the winning candidates for two city commission seats will help determine the direction of Bismarck in the next four years and beyond. Bismarck also will elect three members of the park board.
So far, Seminary is being challenged by Steve Bakken, the business development manager for Larson Engineering, and Terry Barnes, who works for Ron Lowman Motors. Bakken says government should be accountable to the taxpayers and Barnes wants to get the city out of debt. It wouldn’t be surprising if more candidates enter the mayoral race.
There’s plenty of time before the June 12 election for the candidates to meet and debate the issues. Any debates or forums that are held will be an opportunity for voters to judge where the candidates stand. Hopefully, voters will attend these debates and forums and follow up by going to the polls. In the past, however, turnout in the June elections hasn’t been good.
North Dakotans aren’t reluctant to express their displeasure with elected officials. When elections roll around, though, too many people stay home. There’s too much at stake to stay home.
How will future city leaders use tax increment financing and the Renaissance Zone program? Will there be a new version of the FiveSouth project? Will plans to improve downtown move forward? What’s the outlook for the bypass and development in north Bismarck? And, of course, what will happen with taxes? These are key issues that impact everyone.
Bismarck residents will have a choice for mayor and, hopefully, competition for the city commission and park board seats. With a field of candidates comes the opportunity for voters to make a difference. It should be an interesting election.