Battle lines are drawn, and political activists are angry. The news of Doug Burgum investing heavily in a PAC to defeat fellow Republicans isn’t sitting well within the NDGOP. Much of that focus has been on the attempt in District 8 to defeat Jeff Delzer. Yet, over the last twenty-four hours, social media newsfeeds and home mailboxes have been flooded with Dakota Leadership PAC ads focusing on the State Treasurer race.
Two NDGOP lawmakers are competing in the June primary election to advance as the party’s candidate in November. Rep. Thomas Beadle of Fargo and Rep. Daniel Johnston of Kathryn are the candidates looking to take over the role as incumbent Treasurer Kelly Schmidt leaves office.
We knew from public comments that the Dakota Leadership PAC was interested in the race. Generally speaking, investment in a statewide race like Treasurer seems more wise and less likely to backfire. That is less certain in District 8. Johnston fits the profile of a politician many in his own party would rather not have in office. Ask anyone around the Valley City area to learn more. It should come as no surprise the PAC is running ads supporting Thomas Beadle who was endorsed by Gov. Burgum. The immediate push back by fellow Republicans should not come as a surprise either.
One of the NDGOP members outraged about Burgum’s PAC is outgoing Treasurer Kelly Schmidt. In sharing the Associated Press article on the PAC, Schmidt declared the move “SHAMEFUL.” If you look closely, you can see Schmidt is supporting Johnston for the office she is choosing to vacate.
It is important to remember the recent history of the Treasurer’s office. It was discovered $262 million meant for ND public schools was misplaced. The Treasurer’s office is responsible for those deposits and transfers. What followed the realization the money was “misplaced” was a circular finger-pointing in Republican officeholders. Republican Schmidt claimed that Republican Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s office gave bad advice. Then fingers were pointed at the Republican-controlled Legislature for not making the law crystal clear.
The entire situation was a mess. In fact, it was embarrassing. Thankfully, Jodi Smith – who was appointed Land Commissioner by Governor Doug Burgum – discovered the error. The Legislature eventually moved money around to try and fix the money mismanagement. I recently interviewed candidate Thomas Beadle about his campaign where I asked about the situation. He was on the House Appropriations Committee chaired by Jeff Delzer at the time. It seemed obvious he believes Schmidt was responsible for the mismanagement. Listen to that interview below.
Let’s be clear, these tensions aren’t new. They’re just being aired in the public for the first time. Without a legitimate opposition political party, it was only a matter of time before the in-fighting rose to this level. There are two very different Republican parties in ND. Burgum is banking on his money and that of his rich friends prevailing in this fight. It worked in 2016. Can it be repeated in 2020?