Why Aren’t Red States Red? (Part 2)

Conservatives often wonder why states that have Republican legislative majorities don’t necessarily produce conservative legislation. In Part 1 of this series, I looked at Texas through the eyes of a conservative activist there, who explained how Republican majorities gutted what was once a strong anti-DEI bill. Now we turn our attention to North Dakota.

Is is possible to be redder than North Dakota? As my colleague Bill Walsh notes, that state has overwhelming Republican majorities: 84-12 in the North Dakota House, and 43-4–seriously!–in the Senate. So why are North Dakota conservatives so disappointed in the session that has just concluded?

It’s hard to imagine a political party dominating a state legislature more than North Dakota Republicans. They have super-supermajorities in both bodies, 84-12 in the House and 43-4 in the Senate. Most legislative battles aren’t Republican/Democrat but rather Conservative Republican/Moderate Republican.

Anyone following North Dakota state politics lately knows there is a divide in the Republican Party of North Dakota between conservatives and moderates. This dynamic played out in the 2022 election as Republicans from each side faced off in Republican primaries, with the Dakota Leadership PAC (funded by Gov. Doug Burgum) recruiting moderate candidates to run against conservatives.

The results of the election battle were mixed, but a new analysis of legislative votes from the 2023 session shows moderates are winning the longer war.

Minot Republicans Mike Blessum and Zach Lessig used a computer algorithm to analyze the votes of every North Dakota legislator to determine how they voted. Or more accurately, who they voted with. The results in the North Dakota House are stunning — 45 of the 84 members who caucus Republican vote more with the liberal members of the House than with the conservatives.

We spot checked the most moderate Republican in the chart, Rep. Emily O’Brien of Grand Forks. She voted with the most liberal member (Rep. Karla Hanson) 80% of the time and with the most conservative member (Rep. Larry Bellew) 40% of the time. Ironically, she also voted with House Republican Leader Rep. Mike Lefor 87% of the time, indicating the problem with moderate voting might begin with leadership.

To repeat, for emphasis, Bill’s central point: more than half of North Dakota House Republicans voted with Democrats more than half of the time. North Dakotans are voting for red state governance, but they aren’t getting it.

More here, the source of the above chart on House votes. These authors have put together a database with an enormous amount of information about state legislatures and their voting patterns.

I don’t want to leave this post on a down note. Last weekend, conservative insurgents made a bid to take control of North Dakota’s GOP. It looks like they have succeeded. Maybe that will bring redder results to a deep red state.

If you are interested in North Dakota, you should check out American Experiment’s North Dakota web site and sign up for our weekly North Dakota emails here.

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