In our scurry to cover all 34 of this year’s races for the U.S. Senate, this week, we’re going for another twofer: North Dakota and South Dakota, a couple of red states on the prairie with Republican incumbents who are expected to stay right where they are, no matter what kind of crazy talk comes out of Donald Trump’s mouth. Having said that, we must once again invoke the wisdom of expert political pundit Our Girlfriend, who reminds us that this year you shouldn’t bet on anything as a guaranteed outcome. So let’s get to what’s bakin’ in the Bakken, without being crude about it (fine, fine, South Dakota isn’t actually an oil state, if you’re going to nitpick).
The main thing to remember about the two Dakotas is that the North one has the oil, Fargo, and the failed attempt by an old Nazi to take over a tiny town and turn it into Aryan Disneyland. Also in 2001 there was that famous Dave Barry column about the North Dakotans who fantasized that simply changing the state’s name to “Dakota” would be great for tourism because then people’s first thought won’t be “BRRRR.” South Dakota has Mount Rushmore and as far as we know, nothing else. Badlands, we guess. Oh, and HBO’s Deadwood was set there, so they have cowboys who say “fuck” a lot. We hope you have enjoyed the travelogue portion of today’s column.
The other thing South Dakota has is the third-ranking Republican in the Senate, John Thune, who was elected to the state’s single House seat in 1996, then elected to the Senate in 2004 after people decided “Thenator Thune” was fun to say. He beat Democratic icon Tom Daschle, for which we’re still pretty sore. Thune is your average Republican dickbag who kinda-sorta admits human activity plays some role in climate change, but falls back on the weaselly “climate is always changing” chestnut. As chair of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee he appointed Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio to run two key subcommittees with authority over setting global warming policy. Or rather, policy to ignore and deny global warming. Thune ultimately voted against two amendments to a Keystone XL Pipeline authorization stating that climate change is real and caused by humans.
Thune was once suspected of having presidential aspirations; back in 2009, David “I know how to pick ’em, huh?” Brooks actually typed these not at all Brokeback-sounding words:
The first thing everybody knows about him is that he is tall (6 feet 4 inches), tanned (in a prairie, sun-chapped sort of way) and handsome (John McCain jokes that if he had Thune’s face he’d be president right now). If you wanted a Republican with the same general body type and athletic grace as Barack Obama, you’d pick Thune.
Or as Yr Editrix put it, he’s “sexy in a weird ugly way, like Willem Dafoe.” Such journalistic plaudits clearly got the attention of the lanky South Dakotan (goddamn you, Brooks, you’ve got us doing it!), and in 2011 he briefly flirted with the idea of doing the whole possibly-maybe-might explore it game, only to rule out a run with a load of arglebargle and prayer.
A bit more recently, Thune co-sponsored a 2012 bill to “preserve family farms,” or at least preserve child labor thereupon, narrowly saving the Midwest from Marxism. Last year, when the Supreme Court was considering whether vague language in the Affordable Care Act might disallow people on federal exchanges from getting subsidies for health insurance, Thune tweeted what might be the lamest possible attack on Obamacare ever:
Darn that Barack Obama for letting Republicans block the one-sentence fix that would have resolved the issue! Thune briefly turned up again in May of this year when he sent Facebook a very sternly worded letter to warn Mark Zuckerberg that he’d better not be skewing the news toward liberal sources, which is as close to a “congressional probe” that dumb non-scandal got before it vanished.Jay Williams, who seems really nice and supports net neutrality, a higher minimum wage, the right to choose, strong action against climate change, accepting more Syrian refugees, and much more federal attention to issues affecting Native Americans. He’s even for marijuana decriminalization — about feckin’ time — and drives a Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid. But the unfortunate reality is that Williams is mostly getting some token Democratic support because the South Dakota Dems don’t want a replay of 2010, when Thune ran unopposed. At least this time around, there’s a name with a “D” next to it on the ballot. At the end of June, Williams’s campaign had a bit under $24,000 cash on hand. John Thune had slightly less than $12.5 million. Even so, Williams seems to be having a heck of a fun time campaigning; this profile in the Argus Leader depicts him as a passionate underdog who has no illusions about November’s results, but wants to make noise and build a progressive base in South Dakota, while getting great gas mileage.
In North Dakota, incumbent Republican John Hoeven is actually a person who exists, although darned if we’d heard of him before starting on this week’s column. If you’ve heard of John Hoeven and you’re not from North Dakota, please congratulate yourself on being either very well informed or berate yourself for wasting brainspace on the guy. A former banker, he was governor of North Dakota from 2000 to 2010, a period that might be remembered locally as the Hoeven Decade, or not. Our WonkAarchives have practically nothing on him, except for a 2006 piece making fun of his gubernatorial Christmas card, which may have been very funny except for how the image vanished in one of the Great Wonkette Server Migrations of yesteryear. We guess his daughter looked like Valerie Bertinelli. In its place, here is a Christmas card by John Waters, which is at least also from 2006:
Hoeven also got a mention here in 2015, when he and West Virginia “Democrat” Joe Manchin co-sponsored the very first bill of the brand-new Republican Senate, which demanded the immediate construction of the Keystone XL pipeline so plenty of Canadian tar sands oil could gush across the prairie on its way to Gulf coast refineries. The bill was notable both for Barack Obama’s announcement that he’d veto it if it passed, and for those global warming amendments we mentioned earlier: The first, by Hawaiian Senator Brian Schatz, stated both that “climate change is real” and that “human activity significantly contributes” to it. When that failed, Sen. Hoeven offered a watered down “alternative” which said human activities contribute to climate change, but left out that nonsense about the contribution being “significant.” That one also failed, but was at least an option for a few other Republicans to vote for so they could proudly say in an election year they cared about the planet while voting to transport some of the dirtiest oil in North America. The Keystone bill passed, then got vetoed good and hard.
On other issues, Hoeven is pretty conservative, doing the whole Second Amendment Good, Abortion Bad dance, although somehow he only managed a 42% score on the Heritage Foundation’s Conservative Scorecard, the same as that flaming socialist Mitch McConnell. He was one of the Senate Republicans who signed Tom Cotton’s love note to the Iranian ayatollahs reminding them that Barack Obama wasn’t really president, but reassured NewsMax that he and his fellow rightwingers weren’t traitors. And needless to say, he’s dead set against the Senate voting on the nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court, since as you know, Barack Obama won’t be president very much longer. Hoeven’s also for prayer in schools and against marriage equality, so there. Perhaps one of our North Dakota readers can offer further insight into Hoeven in the comments. Or perhaps the other one can.
Running against Hoeven is state Rep. Eliot Glassheim, only he’s not merely a Democrat — in North Dakota, they have the Democratic-Nonpartisan League Party just to be different. Like Williams’s race against Thune, you could call Glassheim’s race a David vs Goliath scenario, although really, Williams/Thune is more David vs. Godzilla. And Glassheim is a David without any rocks in his sling: Hoeven currently has over $2.7 million cash on hand, while Glassheim’s campaign says he hasn’t yet raised or spent the minimal $5,000 necessary to require filing a financial disclosure with the Federal Election Commission. Like Williams, Glassheim seems like a hell of a nice guy who was tapped to run solely so the Republican wouldn’t be unopposed on the ballot. We have to say that for someone with a snowball’s chance in hell, we like him a hell of a lot. He’s a former college English teacher and bookstore owner who used to write grants for an art museum and for the North Dakota Migrant Council, for godssake. Everybody in Grand Forks, where he formerly served on the City Council, seems to love him, and we do too.
How extemporaneous is Glassheim’s candidacy? He was literally asked to run the day before the state convention, and being a decent fellow who had already announced he wouldn’t seek reelection to the state House after what may have been a mild stroke in 2015, Glassheim stepped up for a last hurrah. He knows he doesn’t really have a shot, but he’s ready to act like he does, which is what Democrats do in an overwhelmingly red state. In addition to the 2015 hospitalization, Glassheim has been treated in the past for lung cancer, but says at his latest check-up, his oncologist found “no real visible signs of cancer. I’m feeling good.” When a reporter from the Bismarck Tribune asked him if he was thought he’d be able to serve a full six years if he beat Hoeven, Glassheim, 78, replied that he was fairly confident: “You never know when you’re going to be hit by a bus.”
Glassheim plans to challenge Hoeven on a number of issues, especially reasonable gun safety measures, Senate Republicans’ refusal to hold a vote on Merrick Garland’s nomination, Hoeven’s friendliness to the fossil fuels industry, and Hoeven’s very careful position on Donald Trump, who Hoeven says he “supports” but won’t “endorse”:
“Exactly what part of Donald Trump’s agenda does Sen. Hoeven support?” Glassheim said in a prepared statement in May. “Does Sen. Hoeven support lowering wages for working families? Does he support kicking 11 million people out of the country and tearing families apart—families who pay taxes and pay into the Social Security system? Does he support withdrawing American participation in NATO and allowing nuclear weapons to proliferate?”
Hoeven’s campaign fired back by pointing out Glassheim would support either Bernie Sanders of Hillary Clinton for president — neither of whom were a presumptive nominee at the time — both of whom oppose fracking and would “weaken our Second Amendment rights.”
And there’s your political debate in 2016. “What are we going to do to help working families?” versus “They’re terkin’ are guns and fracking!” Another ten weeks, kids. We’ll get through it together.
Feeling like doing something noble but quixotic with your money? Jay Williams’s donation site is right here, and Eliot Glassheim’s ActBlue donation site is here. Or if you want to do something noble but far less quixotic, you can toss some money in Dok’s Final Stretch Senate Sunday Countdown Fund right here, because we’re down to just nine more states, whoopee!