Two challengers vying to unseat the current Democratic-NPL Party’s chairwoman next month say the party needs to return to its roots and rebuild.
The party’s reorganization meeting is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. April 8 in the auditorium at the North Dakota Heritage Center, located on the state Capitol grounds.
Elections for state party chair, vice chair, secretary, treasurer and regional representatives will be chosen.
Chairwoman Kylie Oversen is running for a second two-year term. Challenging her are newly elected District 8 chairman and 2016 District 8 House candidate Casey Buchmann as well as C.T. Marhula, a former Grand Forks School Board member.
“There’s a lot of new energy and excitement. We have a lot of new people at the table,” Oversen said.
A new infusion of energy and attendance at district party reorganization meetings across the state is in response to the election of Republican Donald Trump as president, according to Oversen.
The Democrats face a steep uphill climb to regain its voice at the state level. Net losses of 10 seats in the House and six seats in the Senate were sustained in November as state Republicans rode Trump’s coattails and outmatched Democrats on the campaign trail.
Oversen was among the House members defeated in November.
Republicans hold their largest legislative majorities in decades as well as every statewide elected office in the Capitol tower and two of three seats in the congressional delegation.
Oversen said the party held meetings around the state following the election and has begun efforts to improve party infrastructure.
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The effort of the state party last cycle and the continued losses is unacceptable, according to Oversen's challengers.
“We need a wholesale change. We need to start from the ground up. We have no teeth," said Buchmann, adding the party needs to make a concerted effort to be more visible, particularly in the rural districts, and make a far stronger case to voters.
The party has ignored farmers, ranchers and labor groups, ceding ground to Republicans for too long, according to Buchmann, who said the state party needs to step out of the national Democratic Party’s shadow and provide a vision on issues state residents care about and less emphasis on social issues that resonate more in states on either coast.
“That doesn’t mean squat to a farmer,” Buchmann said of some social issues, such as gay marriage.
Marhula’s rhetoric was similar to Buchmann’s.
“We have to return to our Nonpartisan League roots and adopt a 47-district strategy,” Marhula said. “I was really disappointed in the effort last cycle. What works in Cavalier might not work in Bismarck or Fargo.”
The party has several strong districts that should make an effort to help mentor and work with weaker neighboring districts, said Marhula, adding that, if he were chair, he’d meet with leaders in each district and develop complete plans and goals for each district to achieve in terms of rebuilding themselves.
If the party can distinguish itself from the national party and speak to voters on North Dakota issues such as jobs, health care, agriculture and others they can rebound, he said.
“In North Dakota we’re a meat and potatoes party,” Martula said.
North Dakota GOP Chairman Kelly Armstrong, who will be running for a second two-year term, said that party’s reorganization and leadership elections will be held the first weekend in June.