This is what happens when Democrats spend too much time listening to themselves

I’ve long felt that North Dakota’s Democrats, from their scant few elected officials down to their rank-and-file party activists, live in a bubble.

They convene on social media, or as audiences for party surrogates in the media, and convince themselves that North Dakota is a corrupt state run by crusty old male Republicans as a sort of hegemony for big business and/or oil interests.

Then election day comes and they mostly lose, because as it turns out most North Dakotans don’t agree with them.

Rinse and repeat, election cycle after election cycle.

A manifestation of this phenomena is a ballot measure initiative to raise the state’s oil extraction tax which turned into a resounding belly flop this week.

Democrats have been carping about this issue for years now. During the 2015 legislative session the Republican majority reformed the oil tax code to remove a massive trigger exemption triggered by low oil prices and dropped the combined production and extraction taxes to 10 percent.

Our liberal friends didn’t like that change to the top rate, thus the ballot measure which would have restored the rate to 11.5 percent. Former lawmaker Ed Gruchalla, who was backing the measure, said that “it would bring money back to the citizens of North Dakota that was stolen in a shady last-minute deal in the final days of the (legislative session).”

Stolen? That’s a strong word. And an inaccurate one given that the net result of the 2015 reforms was the oil industry, from January of 2016 to present, paying more than $1 billion in additional taxes to the state.

Leave it to Democrats to describe a billion dollar tax hike as some sort of a give away to big oil.

Anyway, the ballot measure campaign hatched by Gruchalla and current Democratic state Sen. Merrill Piepkorn of Fargo lasted for about two weeks. They’ve now called the campaign off after failing to get support from left leaning organizations like North Dakota United and the Farmer’s Union.

That Gruchalla and Piepkorn didn’t secure that support before announcing their ballot measure speaks to the exact sort of hubris I described at the beginning of this column.

North Dakota’s Democrats spend so much time talking to themselves they’ve lost sight of the priorities of most North Dakotans.

In fact, it’s not clear that the most vocal factions of North Dakota’s progressive like North Dakota all that much. You get the feeling that they’d rather be living somewhere else.

But I digress.

When I get asked by political friends from out of state why North Dakota Democrats can’t get any electoral traction, my answer is something so simple it usually gets overlooked.

It’s not gerrymandering.

National politics are a factor, sure, but not the biggest one.

It’s not even partisanship.

Most North Dakotans would be happy to vote for Democrats if Democrats stood for something most North Dakotans wanted to vote for.

Port, founder of, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator. Follow him on Twitter at @RobPort