As November 4th approaches, both Democrats and Republicans are scrambling to reach constituents about the importance of voting in the midterm elections. Historically, midterm elections procure a lower turnout, but this November, getting out to vote is more important than ever before. Voters are faced with big decisions on the ballot that could drastically affect not only the oil and gas industry in North Dakota, but funding for infrastructure, tax relief and the continuation of North Dakota’s future growth.
Shale Plays Media spoke yesterday to Jason Flohrs, Executive Director of the Republican Party in North Dakota. We talked to him about the GOP’s efforts to get their supporters out to vote.
SPM: We’ve seen lots of campaigning going on and some pretty close races. What do you find to be some of the tightest races in this election?
JF: One of the hottest races is probably the race for agriculture commissioner between our Republican incumbent, Doug Goehring and the challenger, Ryan Taylor. This race is critical for the future of North Dakota. It’s about looking forward and continuing on a path of prosperity that we’ve set our state on versus going back to the failed policies of the past that didn’t work then and that certainly won’t work now. For the last twenty years, our Republican majorities in the legislature and our Republican statewide officials have done a great job creating the environment and the regulatory framework so that oil and gas and other forms of development can take place, and the state has really taken off because of it. Candidates from the Democratic side, especially Taylor, for example, want to change that. They don’t want to have business-friendly policies in place, but instead they want to take the national Democrats’ visions of extreme regulation and bring that to North Dakota and get in the way of everything good that’s going on here.
SMP: I know oil and gas development in the western part of the state is a huge part of that ag commissioner race. If Ryan Taylor were to be elected, what specific things do you think might change?
JH: By his own admission in the book he published, he’s a “tree-hugging liberal.” He would be another vote for the extreme environmental regulations that you see coming out of the Obama administration through the EPA. They have a self-proclaimed war on coal, and that could easily be translated into a war on the very development taking place in North Dakota that has led to the prosperity that we see today. Obama’s own Secretary of Interior praised North Dakota’s current common sense regulation as a model for the nation. The Democrats want to bring more regulation to our industries, taking away the common sense approach that we’ve taken, making it hard to do business and slowing down that development. And that’s a bad thing for North Dakota. We have exemplary common sense regulations that protect landowners and protect our environment while at the same time taking advantage of the natural resources that we’ve been blessed with. Doug Goehring brings breadth and depth of knowledge to the office from a lifetime of farming and production of agriculture. He can speak to and defend what agriculture in North Dakota needs because he’s been a part of it for so long. At the same time, he’s been on the front line of developing the oil and gas reserves that we have in our state and putting in place those common sense regulations that are so important in protecting our environment and our people.
SMP: Do you see Measure 5, the Clean Water, Wildlife, and Parks Amendment, as an issue that affects the ag commissioner race?
JH: Measure 5 does have some impact on the ag commissioner race, but it’s not so much about regulation. Measure 5 would put in the Constitution a mandate to spend a certain percentage of extraction tax dollars on environmental projects and out-of-state projects like those of the Sierra Club, who continually attempt to shut down fracking. The concern is when those types of groups have control of North Dakota tax dollars, they want to spend it on yet-to-be-named environmental projects. Both candidates have come out against Measure 5. Doug has been very vocal about this issue and has spent his time as ag commissioner standing up for the rights of landowners who are in the middle of all this oil development.
SMP: In addition to the position of ag commissioner, are there other issues or races that are important to the Republican Party that we need to pay attention to?
From a big picture perspective, it’s our Republican majorities in the legislature that have really put in place the policies that have led to the amazing growth and development that we’re seeing in North Dakota. Other states are blessed with natural resources, but we’ve found a way to encourage that development while at the same time protecting our land and water. We’ve made historic investments in infrastructure, in K-12 education, higher education, and we’ve been able to provide over $1 billion of broad-based property and income tax directly to the citizens of North Dakota. Our prosperity is in large part due to the Republican leadership over the last several years.
SMP: With the rapid growth in North Dakota, what do you see as some of the challenges that we will need to address in the upcoming Congress?
There are challenges that come with the rapid changes we’ve seen. So far, we’ve allocated over $2 billion for various infrastructure projects out west, from bridges and roads to water to cities and counties to address the needs that they have. We’ve brought more law enforcement to deal with the increase in traffic on the roads. People have been critical of the challenges that come with this growth. But you have to take a step back and say, would you rather deal with the challenges that come with the growth, or would you want to go back 20 years like Ryan Taylor and the Democrats would have us do and deal with the challenge of everyone leaving the state, with nothing going on to keep future generations here?
Another issue that’s critical for North Dakota is the development of the Keystone Pipeline. The Federal Government is standing in the way of this infrastructure that is the safest way to transport oil. It would get trucks off the road, and it will take all of those rail cars standing in the way of ag producers in the state away by transferring the oil by pipeline instead.
SMP: To keep the Republican leadership in place, it’s essential to get people to the polls. What have you been doing on your end to encourage people out there to vote, and what barriers have you encountered in getting Republicans to vote during this midterm election?
JH: While there might not be a big marquis race on the ballot, like a US senator race or a presidential election which would help turn out voters, we’re talking a lot about how critical the midterms are. It’s a question of whether we want to continue on a path of growth and prosperity or go back to failed policies. Making that clear, and making them aware of how critical that is, even in a midterm election, will get them to the polls. We’ve run a robust voter education program, including a 7-city statewide bus tour and tried to reach out to the general population to make sure our voters understand what we stand for and what it means if they don’t return to office. Phone calls, a massive postcard and absentee voter campaign, and even a big push via social media also helped us get the word out in every way imaginable.
SPM: The last polls, now about two weeks old, showed Doug Goehring about 10-18 points ahead of Taylor. Do you think Republicans still have an edge?
I think generally speaking, across the board, all the polls including independent news agencies as well as our own internal polls, have generally shown good sized leads for our candidates. All those leads, though, are predicated on our voters turning out to vote. Everyone who is concerned about North Dakota from the growth of our industries to the funding of education and infrastructure needs to get out and vote. Things have been going well in North Dakota, but it won’t continue if Republicans are not reelected. That’s why you see our candidates working so hard to get the word out in this election cycle—to make sure the voters are educated. When you have candidates with a record of accomplishment like ours do this year, that’s a record that you want to campaign on. But I’ve played college sports, and never once with a big lead in the third quarter of a basketball game, did I ever stop and just quit. You always play until the end, and that’s what we’re doing.