To the surprise of many, breaking news yesterday revealed President-elect Donald Trump has called on U.S. Senator Heidi Heitkamp to visit with him at Trump Tower in New York City. According to national reports, the transition team is considering Heitkamp for either the Department of Interior or Energy. Either position would give North Dakota a strong voice in the new administration should Heitkamp be offered the post and accept it.
The request by Trump’s team shows just how valuable the independent mindset and rural nature of our elected officials can be. Heitkamp has proven she’s able to work across party lines. She’s also taken positions that have ticked off both sides of the political aisle. Whether it is her stance on energy policy that has frustrated the far left of the Democratic Party, or her view on marriage equality that has angered the far right of the Republican Party she has stood her middle ground.
The possible appointment has left many wondering what happens then? First, let’s clear up a common mistake I’m seeing reported nationally. The Governor of North Dakota no longer appoints a replacement in the absence of a U.S. Senator. That changed in 2015 when Republicans in the North Dakota Legislature introduced HB 1181. The change introduced by Rep. Roscoe Streyle followed the announcement by sitting Governor Jack Dalrymple that he would not seek reelection. This would mean an open Governor’s race in 2016. Shivers ran down the spine and sweat formed on the brow of North Dakota Republicans as the rumors of Heitkamp entering the Governor’s race grew. All the years of bragging about being a ‘Republican state’ was thrown out the window when Heitkamp defeated an unpopular sitting Congressman in Rick Berg in 2012. She stayed in the Senate.
With that now clear, North Dakota would have a special election to fill the U.S. Senate seat. It is easy to predict at this time the outcome of a special election or an appointment by the new Republican Governor would likely yield the same results. We can discuss that if necessary at a later date.
Lastly, who would have thought that after all the politicking and positioning by Congressman Kevin Cramer over the course of the campaign that it would be Heitkamp, not Cramer, that would get the call for a potential appointment? Cramer even got an assist from oil billionaire Harold Hamm yesterday. Perhaps it is Heitkamp’s independence and track record, over Cramer’s political pandering that has her entering Trump Tower today.