N.D. tea party scheduled for FebruaryThe first shot across the bow of Gov. John Hoeven’s new bid for the Senate seat being vacated in a year by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., is coming from the starboard side.
By: Stephen J. Lee , Grand Forks Herald, Worthington Daily Globe
The first shot across the bow of Gov. John Hoeven’s new bid for the Senate seat being vacated in a year by Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., is coming from the starboard side.
Organizers of Tea Parties in the state, mostly at the right wing of the Republican Party, are planning a convention next month in Grand Forks to get more organized and to make clear to Hoeven he shouldn’t get a free pass to the Republican nomination.
According to Randy Richards of Grand Forks, an “Ice TEA Party” will be held Feb. 13 in the Alerus Center as part of a move to bring together the dozen or more Tea Party groups around the state.
But Hoeven is in their sights.
“There is a lot of unrest about Gov. Hoeven basically being handed the keys to the GOP car, and so I wouldn’t be shocked if there is criticism of him and his spending,” Richards said.
Hoeven told the Herald on Wednesday that while he’s well aware of the criticism, many TEA Party supporters also support him.
While Democrats are keeping their heads down, mostly, while determining who will run for Dorgan’s seat, the TEA Party action is coming at Hoeven from his right side.
Paul Sorum, the Fargo businessman who announced several months ago he would seek the Republican nomination for the Senate seat, will attend the meeting, Richards said.
Sorum is seen as more conservative than Hoeven and spoke to the large TEA Party last summer in Fargo that drew 1,500 to 2,000 or more people to the public square outside the downtown Civic Center.
The TEA Party movement that began about a year ago across the nation to protest government growth and spending and bailing out banks and Wall Street firms found local grassroots responses.
Several TEA Parties have been held around the state, including one in Grand Forks last summer and in East Grand Forks last spring. More are planned.
Richards has helped coordinate the meetings and communication in the group.
The name refers both to “Taxed Enough Already” and to the Boston Tea Party in 1773 when American colonists protested British taxes on teas by dumping tea in Boston harbor.
But while supporters tout the grassroots nature of the movement, that also means its lack of organization has caused many to dismiss it as a general angry reaction to the Obama administration.
Richards said the Grand Forks TEA Party convention will draft a platform to be presented to candidates of both parties for state and national offices.
Some within the somewhat amorphous TEA Party movement favor forming a third party, others see the Republican Party as their home, Richards said. But most want to keep the TEA Party phenomenon independent of any party to keep true to principles and spread their influence.
State Republican Party officials are planning their own kind of TEA Party in Bismarck next month, maybe on the same day, Richards said.
They plan to invite Rep. Michelle Bachmann, R-Minn., who has been the star of TEA Party meetings in Washington and elsewhere, rivaled only by former Alaska Gov. and Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin, Richards said.
The sharp criticism coming from many TEA Party enthusiasts for Hoeven centers on whether he is conservative enough.
Rob Port, the Minot founder of the conservative North Dakota political blog www.sayanythingblog.com represents the tepid TEA Party enthusiasm for Hoeven. Port spoke at the TEA Party in Grand Forks last summer.
In a recent posting on his blog, Port points out that former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee just endorsed Hoeven.
“Huckabee isn’t exactly my cup of tea, but then again neither is Hoeven, frankly, so this isn’t exactly shocking news,” Port posted Tuesday. “Both are socially conservative Republicans, but both have a tendency to be something less than fiscally conservative.”
Hoeven said Wednesday there are many who support the Tea Parties who also are backing his campaign.
Former Gov. Ed Schafer, who spoke at the TEA Party in Grand Forks last summer and is lauded by many who attended it, is supporting his run for the Senate, Hoeven said. “Nancy Schafer is an honorary chairman of my committee,” he said.
He hasn’t attended any TEA Party events in the state, partly because he was never invited, Hoeven said. But he shares many of the concerns and ideas, he said.
“We have demonstrated we are conservative and we have got a good track record to show it.”
He’s led the state from having no reserve fund to having a record $700 million socked away, while property and income taxes have been cut, a first in state history, Hoeven said. “That’s conservative, that’s getting it done.”
State Sen. Ray Holmberg, a liberal Republican who has held his senate seat longer than anyone else from Grand Forks — since 1977 — said many of the TEA Party concerns nationally don’t apply in North Dakota because of the booming economy.
The “gross state product,” a measure of the total economy in the state, has gone from about $18 billion to $31 billion during Hoeven’s tenure as governor, Holmberg said.
Business taxes are as low as anywhere in the nation, and even auto insurance premiums are lower in North Dakota than any other state, said Holmberg in defending Hoeven against TEA Party criticisms. Obviously, the booming energy and farm economy in recent years is a main reason, but “the legislature and Gov. Hoeven have done a number of things right in the state, as far as the economy and the business community go,” Holmberg said Wednesday. “So we are spending more, yes, but our people are making more money and we have lowered taxes.”
Richards said he is not interested in criticizing Hoeven publicly and wants to see the TEA Party be a strong influence on the Republican Party.
But he wants Hoeven to explain himself, why he once was a Democrat, what caused him to become a Republican, Richards said. How differently would he vote from Dorgan?
“Can he tell a North Dakota crowd that the pork train won’t be just as high or higher,” Richards said. “I just don’t know.”
Hoeven said he would have voted against the federal stimulus legislation and Democrats’ health reform bill that Dorgan voted for.
“I oppose it, he supported it, that’s a pretty clear example,” Hoeven said.
The Republican Party “is a big tent party,” that welcomes many, including TEA Party supporters, Hoeven said.
TEA Partiers wonder why Hoeven hasn’t returned more of the state’s largesse from oil, coal and agriculture booms in recent years to citizens, Richards said.
“Most of us are average people on limited incomes who love our country and quite frankly are scared for our country,” Richards said.
The convention Feb. 13 in the Alerus is open to Hoeven and any candidate, even Democrats, Richards said.
“This is chance for us to be heard. So we want them to come and win our votes.”
Stephen J. Lee is a reporter at the Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald, which is owned by Forum Communications Co.