Sen. Heitkamp pretends at the accessibility North Dakotans demand

Tessa Gould is not a household name in North Dakota. Most of you readers probably don’t know who she is.

But if you work at a media outlet which has published or broadcast something which can be perceived as critical of Sen. Heidi Heitkamp you probably have an intimate knowledge of Gould’s caustic approach to politics.

Gould, you see, is Heitkamp’s chief of staff. But more than that, really. She’s also widely credited as the architect of Heitkamp’s upset victory over Republican Rick Berg in 2012, though it’s hard to know how much credit to grant Gould for a win in an election Berg’s campaign worked very hard to lose.

For the purposes of this column, however, suffice it to say that if you are a Heitkamp critic it will be Gould working to shut you up.

Which is ironic given a recent profile of Gould published by Politico.

That Washington D.C.-based publication put Gould on a “power list” of “women to watch” in national politics.

In the article Gould, apparently with a straight face, credited the electoral success her boss has enjoyed to the senator being willing to “get out and talk to people and meet with people.”

“People know her. They expect to have time with her, talking with her directly,” Gould said.

There is no question Gould belongs on Politico’s “power list.” Success in politics demands a gumption to glibly peddle mistruths.

Heitkamp’s opponent this election cycle, Congressman Kevin Cramer, is widely credited even by his critics with a willingness to engage. Cramer does regular segments on talk radio shows across the state, including mine, taking questions and compliments and zingers from his constituents.

Cramer also holds in-person town hall events regularly. He even accepted an invitation for a town hall from the Fargo iteration of a far-left national group called Indivisible. When Cramer showed up to the event he was yelled at — that’s Indivisible’s modus operandi, to try and manufacture embarrassing public moments with Republican elected officials — but still, he was there.

Contrast that with Heitkamp who doesn’t do open-mic town hall events and will not book interviews with right-of-center commentators in North Dakota.

I request an interview with the senator every Monday. My requests go unanswered. Reacting to Gould’s profile, talk radio host Scott Hennen said his unanswered requests to Heitkamp’s office “now number into the hundreds.”

“It’s just sad that a woman who has been in politics all these years won’t come on and answer the tough questions,” Valley News Live commentator Chris Berg, who also can’t book Heitkamp, told me for this column last year. “She works for all North Dakotans, so you would think she would want to speak to all North Dakotans.”

You’d think. That’s certainly the impression Gould was trying to give in her profile.

The thing is, it just isn’t true.

In 2012 Heitkamp’s brother, who is also a radio host, routinely lambasted her opponent for refusing to do an interview on his show. Yet in 2018, Sen. Heitkamp is guilty with the same, only with multiple right-of-center critics.

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