Last month the North Dakota Legislature convened in special session. The primary purpose of their doing so was to complete the state’s legislative redistricting required by federal law. This occurs every ten years after the results of the United States Census is released.
In addition to drawing new legislative districts, lawmakers also grappled with high profile issues like COVID-19 relief funding, vaccine mandates, and critical race theory in schools. But that wasn’t the whole of it. Also tucked into that session was a power grab of sorts.
First, some context.
Earlier this year, the North Dakota Republican Party (NDGOP) endured a tumultuous season of reorganization meetings. What it amounted to was that the more conservative arm of the party had consistently made gains by electing conservative chairs in certain districts. With a new round of “reorgs” scheduled, establishment Republicans lost their minds at the idea of conservatives gaining control of the NDGOP State Committee and decided to push back.
As a result, we heard reports of things like folks ignoring or changing bylaws at the last minute, not noticing meetings according to law, making last minute changes to venue, and even shutting out people from simply observing the proceedings of reorganization meetings. The spectacle should have been an embarrassment to those involved in the districts where these things are alleged to have occurred. Unfortunately, when it comes to political power, some people are not only downright ruthless, but they’re also shameless.
In the aftermath of it all, conservatives failed to gain a majority on the State Committee. By the time they met for the NDGOP State Committee meeting in June, I’m told that divisive feelings were running pretty deep. This left some wondering whether such fractured leadership in the party could ever get along.
Fast forward to November and North Dakota’s special legislative session where House Bill 1513 was introduced. A provision of this bill — which passed and has now become law — reads:
“After redistricting of the legislative assembly becomes effective, the state party chair may
appoint a temporary district party organization chair in any newly established district or a
district that lacks a district committee able to carry out the responsibilities of this chapter. The
temporary district party organization chair shall organize the district political party as closely as
possible in conformance with this chapter to assure compliance with primary election filing
In other words, the State Party Chair can appoint District Chairs in the following situations:
- In a new district.
- In a district where the District Chair was districted out and no committee exists to carry on the business of the local party organization.
Seems pretty harmless, right? On the surface, it seems so. But as is often the case in politics, there’s more to this than meets the eye. For starters, look at who the primary sponsor of the bill is— Rep. Mike Lefor (R-District 37). Yes, that same Mike Lefor who is also the Chair of District 37. That same Mike Lefor who, by virtue of his chairmanship, sits on the NDGOP State Committee.
With passage of HB 1513, Rep. Lefor literally led the charge to empower NDGOP State Chair Perrie Schafer with the authority to stack the State Committee as Schafer sees fit. Now, you might counter with, “But it’s only a temporary appointment.” And that’s true. But again, there’s more to this than meets the eye.
This Saturday, December 18th, the NDGOP State Committee meeting will convene to consider a number of important issues. This includes things like removing the College Republicans and Young Republicans from the State Committee as voting members and whether to move the party’s endorsing convention from pre-primary to post-primary. These issues — among others — are sure to garner some serious debate.
In all, I’m told that thirteen districts will ultimately have to reorganize as a result of redistricting. Of those thirteen, the State Chair has appointed seven District Chairs to fill vacancies. It’s worth mentioning here that changes to State Party Rules require a 2/3 vote— not a simple majority. Could these appointments make achieving that standard more likely? Time will tell.
As pointed out by Rep. Jeff Magrum (R-District 28) in floor debate on HB 1513, this power has never been put in statute before. Nor should it have been. Political parties are private organizations. They are governed by their own bylaws. If the NDGOP — or any other party for that matter — has not had the good sense to craft their bylaws in such a way as to deal with these vacancies, that shouldn’t have necessitated the state legislature getting involved. Instead, it means that state parties should have convened their own governing bodies to address any existing inadequacies.
As things stand now, this isn’t a good look for anyone involved. It doesn’t look good for Rep. Mike Lefor, who sponsored the bill and was fully aware of the context in which all this was happening. It doesn’t look good for NDGOP State Chair Perrie Schafer, who now goes into a meeting with the appearance of being complicit in a power grab. Nor does it look good for Governor Doug Burgum, who was seemingly more than happy to sign the legislation into law. That same Doug Burgum who loves primaries, seemingly doesn’t care for endorsement conventions, and has previously used his own fortune to campaign against conservatives.
We’ll know more after Saturday’s NDGOP State Committee meeting. But as of now, it most certainly appears like an establishment Republican movement is afoot to fundamentally change the North Dakota Republican Party and crush the growing conservative movement in North Dakota. And this legislation seems to have been a part of it.
Not only could this be bad for the party. It could be bad for North Dakota too.
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- ND Legislative Special Session this November – the Spectrum (ndsuspectrum.com)
- Establishment Republicans are Ignoring the Reality of District Reorgs – The Minuteman Blog
- Can ND’s Fractured Republican Party Leadership Ever Get Along? – The Minuteman Blog
- Enrolled House Bill No. 1513 – Sixty-seventh Legislative Assembly of North Dakota – LC Number 21.1115.03000 (nd.gov)
- State Committee – North Dakota Republican Party (ndgop.org)
- Platform & Rules – North Dakota Republican Party (ndgop.org)
- North Dakota Legislative Branch Video (nd.gov)