Libertarian Party gains ND ballot status

BISMARCK – The North Dakota Libertarian Party won’t have to gather signatures to secure a spot on the 2016 statewide ballot after one of its candidates captured more than 5 percent of the vote in the race for secretary of state Tuesday.

Roland Riemers of Grand Forks, the state party chairman who finished third in Tuesday’s race with 5.3 percent of the vote, called it “a landmark day for us.”

“That was pretty much our entire goal for this election was to get that 5 percent,” he said.

Under state law, political parties can become eligible for the ballot in three ways: by organizing into districts, as Republicans and Democrats do; by collecting 7,000 signatures from qualified voters; or by receiving at least 5 percent of the vote in the governor’s race during presidential elections or in the race for secretary of state or attorney general during midterm elections.

Riemers said the signature gathering process usually takes several months and costs $15,000 to $20,000.

“It’s expensive and time-consuming, and that’s time and money we could be spending on a candidate or campaign,” he said.

Secretary of State Al Jaeger, who received 62 percent of the vote to win Tuesday’s race over Riemers and Democrat April Fairfield, said he couldn’t recall another time during his almost 22 years in office that a third party had exceeded the vote threshold to automatically secure a place on the ballot.

The Libertarian Party will have its own column on the June 2016 ballot, and its candidates who advance from that election will carry the party label on the November ballot, he said.

The party must continue to exceed the vote threshold in each presidential and midterm election to maintain its spot on the ballot, he said.

Riemers said the party may ask legislators to amend state law to allow the 5 percent threshold to apply to any statewide race or an average of the statewide races in which the party has candidates.

The Libertarian Party’s two other statewide candidates also took at least 5 percent of the vote Tuesday. Jack Seaman of Fargo received 5.8 percent in the U.S. House race, and Anthony Mangnall of Fargo received 6.4 percent in the race for state tax commissioner.

Republicans remain in control, most measures defeated

The Measures – Measure 1Measure 2Measure 3Measure 4Measure 5Measure 6Measure 7Measure 8

The Races – State Offices – ND HouseND Agriculture CommissionerND Tax Commissioner, ND Public Service CommissionND Attorney GeneralND Secretary of State

More than 83,000 ballots cast in N.D. before Election Day

Forum News Service

BISMARCK – More than 83,000 North Dakota voters had already cast ballots before the polls opened this morning on Election Day, Secretary of State Al Jaeger said.

As of about 7 p.m. Monday, voters had returned 32,055 absentee ballots and 31,647 vote-by-mail ballots. Another 19,460 voters took advantage of early voting locations, for a total of 83,162 ballots cast prior to Election Day.

For comparison, 240,876 ballots were cast in the November 2010 midterm election and 352,862 in the November 2012 presidential election.

North Dakotans will decide on eight ballot measures today, the most since June 1996, when nine measures were on the ballot. The last November election with eight ballot measures was in 1990.

North Dakota election features eight statewide measures — the most in 25 years

Kevin Bonham

Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — When North Dakota voters go to the polls Tuesday, they’ll find a ballot containing eight statewide measures, the most in a quarter century.

That’s the same number that was on the ballot in a special election on Dec. 5, 1989.

The Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald banner headline the morning after reflected the voters’ mood:

No. No. No. No. No. No. No. No.

That election, and perhaps that headline itself, served as an exclamation mark for North Dakota in the 1980s, a time of rapid rural depopulation and economic decline. Even then-Gov. George Sinner — father of the current U.S. House candidate of the same name — was referred to in the state Capitol and in the media and as Gov. Gloom and Doom.

While the multiple-measure elections of 1989 and 2014 stand out in recent years, they are neither state records nor anomalies in North Dakota’s history.

North Dakota has had about 470 measures, either through initiated measure or by referral from the Legislature, on the statewide ballot in its history, according to Lloyd Omdahl, a retired the University of North Dakota history professor and former state lieutenant governor.

That’s 47 per decade over the past century.

“California is a winner in this category. They have more measures than North Dakota has,” Omdahl said.

While North Dakota will celebrate its 125th birthday on Sunday, it wasn’t until 1914, at the cusp of the state’s Progressive Party reform movement, that the Legislature amended the state constitution to provide for people to use a petition process to propose amendments.

Since then, most statewide elections have had a mix of ballot issues to either make changes to the state constitution or to change state law, through measures initiated by residents or through the legislative referrals.

In 1918, 10 measures were on the statewide ballot, according to Omdahl. All passed.

The 13 measures on the 1938 primary election ballot stand as the state record.

“The point is, we’ve had an average of four to five measures on the ballot each election,” he said. “The 1930s would take the prize. They had an average of 7.”

Issues vary

“Historically, the Legislature has tried to make it more difficult for citizens to use the initiative and referendum process,” Omdahl said. “The Legislature has never liked it.”

Beginning in 1932, he said, the legislators started increasing the number of signatures it takes to get a measure placed on the ballot.

This year, the legislators switched to substantive argument, Omdahl said. That’s apparent in Measure Four, which, if approved, would prevent people from circulating petitions for measures that would dictate significant state spending.

“This is another attempt to put the brakes on it,” he said.

Over the years, moral issues have been at the heart of many statewide ballot issues.

As an example, this year’s Measure One, the so-called “human life” amendment, is a theologically driven moral issue, he said.

“We’ve had others,” he said. “Over the years, we’ve voted on what you can do on Sundays, on going to the movies, playing baseball on Sundays, on shopping. “

Measures driven by special interest groups also have been common, although they are more difficult to track in the early years, he said.

That was never more true than during a 20-year span in the 1960s and 1970s, when Robert McCarney, a Bismarck car dealer who was dubbed the “referral king,” sponsored nine referrals, five initiated measures and one constitutional amendment. While the subjects varied, most of them were attempts to cut taxes or trim government.

1989 and today

All eight of the measures in 1989 were referrals, laws passed by the Legislature that were referred by residents.

“It’s very different from 1989, because there’s such a variety of issues. In ’89, they were all referrals. They all had been passed by the Legislature and they were all referred.

“This time, it’s a mix of initiated measures and things that the Legislature itself referred, and then there are some constitutional amendments and statutes. So, it’s more of a potpourri this time than it was in ’89,” said Mike Jacobs, who was the Herald editor at the time.

The 1989 referrals, among other things, capped or cut funding for a variety of programs, including public education and higher education.

Jacobs said reaction to the referrals was best summed up at the time by the late University of North Dakota president Tom Clifford.

“I’m really surprised,” he said. “I thought that we would pull the sales tax out. I regret it very much. It’s their state. It’s a voter’s state. And we will have to work with their decisions.”

As a result of the 1989 elections, state spending slowed to a virtual stop in several areas. Teacher salaries dropped to the bottom of national rankings, and the state quit or drastically curtailed spending on infrastructure maintenance.

Teacher salaries did not start to recover, he said, until the 2000s, when then-Gov. John Hoeven initiated a series of reforms.

“Buildings went to hell at various campuses,” he said. “Minard Hall at NDSU is the most notorious example.”

A portion of Minard Hall, a historic building on the NDSU campus, collapsed in 2009.

In addition, two historic buildings on the Mayville State University campus, East and West halls, were demolished because maintenance had been delayed so long they no longer could be salvaged.

“It’s not a direct result, but the state was broke,” he said.

The state is not broke anymore, not since the Bakken Formation oil boom in western North Dakota began less than a decade ago. Today, officials estimate the state’s budget surplus at more than $1.5 billion.

What effect that might have on the voters’ mood on Tuesday is not yet known.

“People are usually pretty discerning,” Omdahl said. “Usually, there’s a split vote, with some passing, some failing. I think this election is going to be that way.”

Jacob agrees.

“In contrast to 1989, North Dakota’s in really good shape,” he said. “North Dakotans are generally more optimistic today than they were in 1989. So, that sort of anxiety that North Dakotans went to the polls with in 1989 is largely absent this year, at least as far as the state is concerned.

“I don’t think we’ll see another headline like we had in 1989.”

Kevin Bonham is a reporter at the Grand Forks Herald, a Forum Communications Co. newspaper. He can be reached at kbonham@gfherald.com.

Meaure 1 could ban abortions, emergency contraceptives for rape victims, opponents say

By Grace Lyden

Forum News Service

BISMARCK – Two administrators with statewide victim advocacy groups said Friday afternoon that Measure 1 could ban abortions and emergency contraceptives for victims of rape and incest.

“So many victims want that decision-making power after a sexual assault,” Linda Isakson, assistant director of the North Dakota Council on Abused Women Services, said in a teleconference.

By denying them that right, Isakson said, “We further traumatize somebody who’s already been traumatized.”

In 2013, rape crisis centers in North Dakota served 900 people, Isakson said. The risk of pregnancy from sexual assault is 2 to 5 percent.

Renee Stromme, executive director of the North Dakota Women’s Network, also spoke on the teleconference.

“When a woman and her unborn child have equal rights in the eyes of the law, this presents a conflict,” she said. “If only one life could survive, the state would have to decide whether the mother or the child would die.”

Stromme said Measure 1 would violate the state constitution because women would lose the ability to make their own health care decisions.

Supporters of Measure 1 refute the statement that it would ban all abortions.

“That’s a blatant misrepresentation, I dare say lie,” said Jo Bogner, who is on the executive committee for North Dakota Choose Life. “This is the one thing that we agree on, the two campaigns, that it does not and cannot ban abortion.”

As long as Roe v. Wade stands, that will be the case, Bogner said.

Her group’s interpretation is that Measure 1 would preserve the laws already on the books and stop “the abortion industry from striking down laws so that there is a virtually unrestricted right to an abortion,” Bogner said.

Looking for bigger voice; Libertarian seeks wins eventually, exposure in short term

By Tu-Uyen Tran

Forum News Service

FARGO – Robert “Jack” Seaman, the Libertarian candidate for U.S. House in North Dakota, has trailed in every poll this election season, but he remains defiantly optimistic.

“I think I could win, I really do,” he said Tuesday, a week before Election Day.

In most of the polls, Seaman doesn’t crack 5 percent while the major party candidates, Republican incumbent Kevin Cramer and Democrat state Sen. George Sinner, range in the high 20s to high 40s, with Cramer well ahead.

But polls reflect only people who say they’re likely to vote, which Seaman said leaves out those so disgusted with the two-party system they’d just as soon stay home Election Day.

“I’m trying to engage the disenfranchised voters, the young voters that have never voted before and the people that are fed up with their parties. That’s my demographic,” he said.

The Libertarian Party platform includes a little bit of the GOP and Democratic platforms and goes a lot further than either party in the direction of individual liberty.

Seaman said it’s inherently appealing to his demographic, if only more knew about it and more saw it as a viable choice.

That might be why Libertarian candidates mostly run in high-profile statewide or national races that they seem to have no real chance of winning instead of smaller local races where their odds might be better.

“It’s my personal opinion – I’m not speaking for any party official – but I think people run for the bigger offices because they have the most media exposure,” Seaman said. “Win, lose or draw, I’ve been in this race for over a year now, and I think I’ve put the term Libertarian on people’s radar. And that’s the most important thing to grow the party.”

Viability question

Robert S. Wood, a political scientist at the University of North Dakota, said he agrees that dissatisfaction with the major parties is extremely high, and he wouldn’t be surprised if more voters cast “symbolic votes” for a third party.

But, as fast as the Libertarian Party has grown nationwide, it’s still vulnerable to having its issues co-opted by the major parties, Wood said.

That’s what happened to independent presidential candidate Ross Perot after the 1992 election. Perot ran on a deficit-reduction platform but, after Bill Clinton won the presidency, he turned his attention to the issue, effectively neutralizing Perot, Wood said.

In a similar way, libertarians can choose from both the Libertarian Party and the libertarian wing of the GOP exemplified by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

Seaman said he sees some advantages to this.

“Trying to evolve a third political party in this country is not something that’s going to happen overnight,” he said. “I would embrace ‘small-L’ libertarians as a step forward than having no other option.”

Asked if libertarians, who are closer to the GOP, might not be throwing their votes away if they voted for the Libertarian Party in a tight race and allow the Democrat to win, he said if everyone thought that way the two-party system would never end.

Turning point

Seaman said he grew up in Aberdeen, S.D., and always considered himself more or less a Republican because his parents are Republicans, too. But he was more a fiscal conservative than a social conservative, he said, which made him a “small-L” libertarian as well.

After attending North Dakota State University, Seaman stayed in Fargo and worked a variety of jobs until he came to own the MinDak Gold Exchange downtown. In the meantime, his libertarian beliefs deepened, and he became a devotee of Paul’s father, former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.

Seaman said it was the elder Paul who inspired him to sever his GOP ties after Paul sought and failed to win the party nomination for president in 2012. Paul’s supporters, including Seaman, alleged unfair treatment by the party establishment, which favored Mitt Romney. In some cases, they said, rules were changed to help Romney and suppress Paul.

Now, it’s 2014, and Seaman has spent a year campaigning as a Libertarian.

He said his message is resonating. Voters are fed up with constant bickering between the major parties as well as their willingness to compromise on core beliefs, he said. Voters also like his message of fiscal discipline, replacing federal income taxes with a national sales tax and avoiding foreign wars, he said.

But his desire to legalize marijuana, though appreciated by younger voters, will take some getting used to for older voters, he said.

“I’m literally running to the right of Kevin Cramer and to the left of George Sinner, and that’s a pretty wide range of voters to appeal to,” he said.

Despite his optimism, Seaman isn’t under any delusion that he’ll win, he just believes that it’s possible to win – eventually.

Small as it may be now, he said, the Libertarian Party is the fastest growing party in the country, so if it doesn’t win this year, maybe it will in two years, or 10 or 20.

“An avalanche starts with a single snowflake,” he said.

Ag chairman defends Cramer on farm bill delays

By Tu-Uyen Tran

Forum News Service

FARGO – Battling Democratic accusations that he tried to derail the farm bill last year, Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., is getting help from his House Agriculture Committee chairman.

In a conference call with reporters Monday, Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., contended that what might have appeared as the deliberate unraveling of a five-decade compromise between rural and urban interests was really a last-ditch effort to save the bill.

“Let me simply say this, the way the process came together, the challenges that Kevin and I faced in getting the final bill together were not of our making,” he said.

Since 1964, there has always been a link between programs helping farmers, supported by rural members of Congress, and programs to help the poor afford food, supported by urban members.

That link broke down for several months in 2013, according to Lucas, who placed much of the blame on “very idealistic food-stamp amendments” by some House Republicans wishing to burnish their credentials with tea party-affiliated conservative groups. It became impossible for Democrats, many of whom have poor urban constituents, to go along.

George B. Sinner, Cramer’s Democratic challenger, said Cramer and Lucas should have fought the tea party but, instead, accommodated it. “He’s trying to take credit for resolving problems that he and his party created,” Sinner said.

“The partisan bickering over last year’s Farm Bill process between my opponents in this race only reinforces the fact that the 2 party system is broken and we need to change it for good,” Jack Seaman, the Libertarian challenger, wrote in an email. He said he prefers to talk about the national debt and foreign policy.

Cramer embraced the tea party movement early on, and Sinner has used that fact to portray him as an extremist. But Cramer said he embraces the grass-roots activists, not the big-moneyed groups that he feels have taken over the movement and tried to drive a wedge between conservatives.

On Monday, Lucas recounted a conversation with a Republican colleague who voted against the farm bill even though it included some tough food-stamp amendments the colleague wanted. “The guy looked at me and said – and this is not a paraphrase, it’s almost an exact quote – ‘Oh chairman, I never intended to vote for the farm bill, I was just running up my score with Club (for Growth) and Heritage (Action for America), FreedomWorks and all those groups.’

“That’s when as chairman you have to show a major amount of physical self-control on the floor.”

The groups he named are conservative groups affiliated with the tea party movement, some of which threatened to downgrade Republicans who supported the farm bill, putting those Republicans at risk in the next primary against a tea party challenger.

The narrative that Lucas, Cramer and Sinner can agree on is that when the Agriculture Committee began working on the farm bill last year, both Democrats and Republicans thought they had enough votes. When it came time to discuss the food stamp portion of the bill though, it turned out they didn’t because tea party Republicans demanded tougher cuts than Democrats expected.

Lucas said he and Cramer decided on a “radical” change of tactics by having the House vote on food stamps and farm programs separately, allowing those that need credit for tough food stamp requirements to get it.

The intent was to bring both together for a final bill, at which time they hoped all House members would realize that, if it failed, there would be no farm bill, Lucas said.

Sinner said the House’s final farm bill was very close to the version in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats – except the House was eight months late, leaving farmers in a lurch. Cramer and Lucas should have stood up to the tea party at the start, Sinner said.

N.D. Tourism to seek changes after sportsmen caught up in campaign ad

By Mike Nowatzki

Forum News Service

BISMARCK – North Dakota’s Tourism Division director said Monday she plans to seek changes to prevent political campaigns from using the agency’s stock footage, after four sportsmen who took part in a tourism video wound up in a campaign ad promoting a controversial ballot measure.

One of the sportsmen, Al Freidig, a Devils Lake real estate agent and avid hunter and fisherman, said he works with a lot of farmers – many of whom oppose Measure 5, the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks amendment – and has privately shared his stance on the measure.

“I tell these people that no, I don’t support it, and then all of a sudden this commercial comes out and so it looks like I’m a liar. And some of these people take that very personally,” he said.

Tourism director Sara Otte Coleman said the stock footage is meant for use by tourism partners and media outlets. The sportsmen weren’t paid for their participation, she said.

When the agency received a request from Hamburger Strategies LLC of Washington, D.C., for footage to use in a political ad supporting Measure 5, “We were under the assumption that this wouldn’t be allowed,” she said.

The Tourism Division, part of the state Department of Commerce, consulted with its staff attorney, Assistant Attorney General Edward Erickson. He concluded that a change in state law would probably be needed to disallow use of stock footage for political purposes, and in the meantime, the agency had to hand over the footage, Otte Coleman said.

Before doing so, the agency sent letters to the four sportsmen, but some didn’t receive the letters because of address changes or other factors, she said.

“Some of them were blindsided, which was really unfortunate,” she said.

The 30-second ad begins with two Bismarck hunters, Bill Mitzel and Jon Mitzel, talking about passing on traditions. The four Devils Lake-area sportsmen – Freidig said all but him are hunting or fishing guides – appear for about two seconds, smiling and waving at the camera with fishing poles in their hands and the lake in the background.

Freidig said he’s an apolitical person and didn’t like being dragged into a commercial suggesting he supports something he had already voted against in early voting.

“We did something that we thought was good for the state of North Dakota. We volunteered our time, our equipment, our boats, things like that, to help out the state of North Dakota in promoting tourism,” he said. “We didn’t sign up to be in a political ad, because I’d never do that.”

“It’s totally disrespectful of the company that’s doing these ads or put this together not to contact us,” he added.

Steve Adair, chairman of the measure’s sponsoring committee, said the Tourism Division didn’t provide the sportsmen’s names.

“We would have been glad to contact them if that information had been provided,” he said.

Otte Coleman said they never asked for the names or for copies of the model release the four sportsmen had to sign. The release specifies that the footage may be used for advertising and editorial purposes, but it doesn’t specifically mention political purposes, she said.

Adair said there was a short window of time to put the ad together, “and we had lots of great footage with many North Dakotans. But I think that helped to round out the piece.”

“All these campaigns use publicly available footage, and that was fine,” he said. “It’s common practice.”

Otte Coleman said it’s the first time the she has run into the issue.

“We would have addressed it before,” she said. “We’re definitely going to look at a way to try to alleviate this problem in the future.”

Response to API complaint

Adair filed a complaint last week with the North Dakota secretary of state’s office, claiming anti-Measure 5 ads distributed by the American Petroleum Institute violated the state’s campaign disclosure laws because they didn’t list API’s “chairman or other responsible individual” as required by law for trade associations.

Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum responded to the complaint late Friday, sending API a copy of the complaint with a link to North Dakota’s law pertaining to disclaimers on political ads.

“We trust that you will make certain that all future political advertising in North Dakota will comply with the laws of our state,” he wrote.

Silrum informed Adair in a separate email that the office will take no further action on the matter, adding, “If you believe additional action must be taken, you may forward your complaint to the Burleigh County state’s attorney or local law enforcement to see if an investigation would be warranted.”

Adair said the campaign was still exploring its options. He said he would have liked to see a stronger message to API from the secretary of state’s office.

Measure supporters submitted a letter and evidence to the Burleigh County sheriff on Monday outlining what they say are suspected violations of North Dakota’s campaign laws by API for “false and misleading statements” about Measure 5.

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com.

Former US Attorney General: ND’s Measure 1 won’t lead to ‘parade of horrors’

Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft speaks Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014, at the Fargo Air Museum about Measure 1, the “right to life” amendment on North Dakota’s ballot. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

By Ryan Johnson

Forum News Service

FARGO – A law on the books in Missouri for almost 30 years shows North Dakota’s “right to life” amendment wouldn’t lead to the “parade of horrors” its opponents have claimed, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Friday.

During a press conference at the Fargo Air Museum announced by ND Choose Life, the main coalition working to support passage of Measure 1, Ashcroft discussed why he believes the two contain “substantially the same” language – and wouldn’t cause the unintended consequences to end-of-life care and in vitro fertilization its opponents have raised as concerns.

While serving as governor of Missouri from 1985 to 1993, Ashcroft signed into law a statute approved by lawmakers that went into effect Jan. 1, 1988.

It defines life as beginning at conception and says “the laws of this state shall be interpreted and construed to acknowledge on behalf of the unborn child at every stage of development, all the rights, privileges and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of this state …”

“That really says in words that aren’t quite as economical, but it says basically the same thing you have in Measure No. 1,” Ashcroft told a crowd of about 75.

Measure 1, put on the 2014 ballot when legislators approved a resolution during the 2013 session, would add to the state constitution: “The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.”

North Dakotans Against Measure 1, the main coalition opposing it, said in a Thursday press release the Missouri law and what’s proposed here are “very different.” Missouri has a state statute, while Measure 1 would amend the state’s constitution.

The release also said Missouri’s law specifically defines life as beginning at conception and includes “specific limitations” set forth by the U.S. and state constitutions and court rulings, limitations Measure 1 doesn’t have.

“Measure 1 is a constitutional amendment that is fundamentally different than an unenforceable state law in his home state,” Dina Butcher, chairwoman of North Dakotans Against Measure 1, said in written statement about Ashcroft’s visit. “The fact remains that Measure 1 is a permanent change to our constitution with far-reaching effects that include end-of-life directives and IVF treatments.”

Ashcroft, who also held a press conference in Bismarck on Thursday morning, said Missouri’s statute hasn’t prevented doctors there from being able to offer IVF infertility treatment.

The three IVF doctors in the state, who all practice at the Sanford Reproductive Medicine Clinic in Fargo, have previously said Measure 1 would make it “impossible” to continue offering IVF. Dr. Steffen Christensen, director of the clinic, said it will “cease and desist” IVF treatments within 30 days if approved by voters to protect the clinic’s staff.

Ashcroft also took on claims Measure 1 could prevent doctors from treating pregnancies with complications endangering the life of the mother and undermine an individual’s ability to determine their own end-of-life care directives. Neither has happened in Missouri since its statute, which he said contains “virtually identical” concepts as Measure 1, went into effect.

“We have not had any experience or difficulty that relates to the kind of terrible outcomes that some individuals have raised as a potential if this is enacted,” he said. “And while you don’t need people from Missouri to tell you how to vote, you do need to be voting based on the truth.”

Ashcroft said he didn’t know who paid for his trip to North Dakota. Shelle Aberle, communications director for ND Choose Life, also said she didn’t know who paid for Ashcroft’s visit, but he was invited to speak here by former Gov. Ed Schafer.

BREAKOUT

Poll shows 45 percent oppose, 39 percent support Measure 1

FARGO – New poll results released Thursday show more voters oppose than support North Dakota’s “right to life” amendment on the ballot.

The new poll, commissioned by the Say Anything Blog and Valley News Live, found 45 percent of the 430 “certain” or “very likely” voters surveyed opposed Measure 1, while 39 percent supported it. Sixteen percent were unsure.

The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent, is based on surveys of respondents between Oct. 13 and 16.

An earlier poll commissioned by Forum Communications found 50 percent of respondents planned to vote in favor of Measure 1, while 33 percent said they’d vote “no” and 17 percent were undecided.

That poll was conducted in early October and also has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

Measure 5 backers file complaint over ads by oil industry group

By Mike Nowatzki

Forum News Service

BISMARCK – Backers of a North Dakota ballot measure that would create a conservation fund with oil tax revenue complained Thursday that the American Petroleum Institute’s campaign ads against the measure violate state law.

Steve Adair, chairman of the measure’s sponsoring committee for Measure 5, filed an election complaint with Secretary of State Al Jaeger, alleging violations of campaign disclosure laws by API.

Adair argued in the complaint that API is violating the law because its ads include “Paid for by the American Petroleum Institute” but don’t list the name of the “chairman or other responsible individual” as required by law for trade associations.

“To us, the materials are clearly illegal, so we would hope that they would stop sending illegal material and we would hope that the people who have put up illegal material in their yards would take them down,” Adair said.

Eric Wohlschlegel, a spokesman for API, said via email that a forwarded copy of Adair’s complaint was “the first I’ve heard of this … and frankly it doesn’t make much sense.”

North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks is asking Jaeger to issue a cease-and-desist order directing API to stop distributing the campaign materials and to refer the matter to the Burleigh County state’s attorney’s office for further investigation and possible prosecution.

Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum said he had received the complaint and reached out to Jaeger, who was out of the office for travel to attend the commissioning of the USS North Dakota submarine on Saturday in Connecticut.

“I am not going to do anything until I’ve had a chance to speak with him,” Silrum said.

Campaign ads are increasingly being scrutinized in the battle over Measure 5, a constitutional amendment that would funnel 5 percent of the state’s oil extraction tax revenue into a fund and trust for the next 25 years to enhance conservation efforts and outdoor recreation. The state budget office projects the fund and trust would collect $308 million by July 2017.

The campaigns also have increasingly accused each other of being driven by out-of-state interests. Memphis, Tenn.-based Ducks Unlimited, which is spearheading the pro-Measure 5 campaign and has a regional office in Bismarck, has spent nearly $2.4 million on the campaign, while Washington, D.C.-based API has spent more than $1 million fighting the measure, according to disclosure reports.

Last week, measure opponents slammed supporters for using images of the South Dakota Badlands in a campaign mailer. Adair said the photos were incorrectly labeled by a stock photo vendor.

Supporters responded Thursday to what they called “false and personal attacks” against Amy Walker, who referred to herself in a pro-Measure 5 TV spot as “a teacher from Mandan” and is listed as a “High School Teacher, Mandan” in a campaign mailer.

Political blogger Rob Port called Walker a “fake Mandan teacher” in a post on his Say Anything Blog, noting she currently isn’t employed as a teacher in Mandan. He also pointed out that her husband is a Ducks Unlimited employee whose job would benefit from Measure 5’s passage. Johann Walker is director of conservation programs for Ducks Unlimited for North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.

In a phone interview Thursday, Amy Walker said she taught at Mandan High School for at least eight years – a district official said she was hired in 2005 – and worked the first week or so of the 2013-14 school year before going on maternity leave. She resigned later that fall so she could stay home with her baby, she said, adding she recently signed up to be a substitute teacher in Mandan.

“That hurt, because I really felt like I am a teacher, and just because I’m at home taking care of my daughter right now … doesn’t mean than I’m any less of a teacher,” said Walker, whose North Dakota educator license is valid through 2016.

Walker also took offense at the suggestion that she was only appearing in the ad because her husband works for Ducks Unlimited, “as if I do not have an autonomous voice and opinion of my own.

“I found those comments to be very sexist,” she said.

Meanwhile, results of a DFM Research poll commissioned by Valley News Live and Say Anything Blog showed 55 percent of respondents opposed to Measure 5, 34 percent in favor of it and 11 percent undecided. The poll of 430 certain or very likely voters between Oct. 13 and 16 had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percent.

Adair said internal and external polling has shown measure supporters ahead and behind, and he still considers it “a very tight race.”

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com.