Local GOP optimistic about state party changes

A grassroots-driven, transparent Republican Party is the hope of local GOP leaders who voiced confidence in the new slate of state officers elected to party leadership in Fargo last week.

Last Friday, the North Dakota Republican Party elected Sandra Sanford of Bismarck, the wife of former lieutenant governor Brent Sanford, as its new chair. Running on a platform of uniting the party and supporting the values espoused in the party’s platform, Sanford defeated incumbent chair, Perrie Schafer.

“I have talked to the district chairs on several occasions. They have been open about the improvements they’d like to see. I look forward to supporting these efforts by offering the resources, tools and training needed to continue to win Republican offices,” Sanford said in a prepared statement.

Also newly elected to the executive committee were John Trandem, Fargo, as first vice chair, Jennifer Benson, Fargo, as second vice chair, Stephen Hillerud, Bismarck, as treasurer and Andrew Bornemann, Kintyre, as secretary,

“I believe that every one of the newly elected officers very much supports the idea of a grassroots party – a party from the bottom up,” said Greg Demme, Minot, chair of District 3.

The new executive team shows promise of a commitment to the Republican platform and to greater party transparency, said District 38 Chair Roger Neshem, Berthold.

“Obviously, all of that needs to come to fruition, but it feels like the right thing,” said Neshem, who believes the changes will encourage grassroots involvement.

“The more involved, the better,” he said. “We are seeing the first signs that people are wanting to get involved.”

Sen. Randy Burckhard of Minot’s District 5 said he knows Sanford, and her capabilities and knowledge and believes she will do a great job. As far as the leadership and other changes to the party that happened in Fargo, he said, they are symbolic of shifts that have been occurring over the last several years at the district levels.

“It means the conservative faction of the party is going to have an opportunity to lead the party for the first time,” said District 40 Chair Jay Lundeen, Minot. “What we do with that opportunity is up to us, because we feel – at least I do, personally – that a number of our constituents, our fellow neighbors and families, have a more conservative ideology. It doesn’t mean they’re far right. They just support family values, faith, community, pro-life.

“It’s been something that’s been brewing in the grassroots level of our state for a number of years,” he added. “You are seeing more of us stand up and take our time and spend our resources to speak and to fight for our values, our rights.”

Lundeen expects the party’s new direction to be positive.

“The biggest change that we will see is to identify the platform of the party and what we stand for,” he said. “Once we do that, then what we need to do is make sure that we follow through and hold our legislators to that standard.”

Sen. Bob Paulson of District 3 said changes made to party rules represent a decentralization of control, giving district chairs more authority, which he views as a good thing.

“Politics is best when it’s closer to the people,” he said.

The party approved two rule changes designed to increase transparency. Demme was involved in the drafting of a change to give party chairs sole responsibility for electing the executive committee. In the past, executive committee members also had a vote, but this created dual representation for the districts of those committee members, Demme said.

Jared Hendrix, a former Minot District 38 chair and now chair of Fargo’s District 10, was involved in crafting a new rule regarding meeting notices. The goal is to expand the information available on the state party website so Republicans are aware of upcoming meetings and receive timely information on the requirements for voting, Hendrix said. The changes are part of making the party welcoming so it can grow its membership, he said.

Overall, Hendrix called the party changes historic.

“There’s a stronger conservative voice among the district chairs now because there’s been a lot of changes at the district level, really, over the last couple of years,” he said. “You are seeing a change in leadership because there’s a very real or perceived – I think it’s very real – disconnect between the kinds of stands that leadership might take on issues and where grassroots Republicans – and I think Republican voters – are. People are getting more involved. They are getting more engaged.”

Hendrix said party leadership has been top heavy in governance, but it now is moving to engage the grassroots and increase the involvement of district chairs who represent them. Part of that increased engagement means leaders will need to work more proactively with issue groups within the party, he said.

“It’s going to strengthen the party,” Hendrix said. “The party has to grow and change and reflect what’s going on. That’s really in a nutshell what happened.”


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