North Dakota‘s Legislature soon will see turnover, as more lawmakers announce they won’t seek re-election. Various reasons are cited, but some mention the heated rhetoric in policy debates. That’s prompting concern from a nonpartisan political group.
Sens. Nicole Poolman, R-Bismarck, and Erin Oban, D-Bismarck, separately announced last month they won’t try to reclaim their seats. Both suggested that the erosion of civility in public discourse factored into their decisions.
Tammy Patrick, senior adviser for the elections team at the Democracy Fund, said this topic comes up frequently in her conversations with public officials around the United States.
“We’re seeing people leave office based on threats to themselves, their families, their staff,” she said, “and also, they’re feeling that they have an inability to truly serve and do the work they were elected to do.”
She said conspiracy theories and conjecture around issues such as election fraud are fueling the rhetoric. Poolman and Oban didn’t mention threats, but used words such as “toxic” and “dangerous” to describe the environment. This week, Senate Majority leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, announced retirement plans, saying it was a family decision made awhile ago. But he urged his successor to place an emphasis on respect in the Legislature.
Patrick said that if more lawmakers who adhere to respectful debate and facts in crafting policy step down – and they’re replaced by those who lean on hostility and conjecture – democracy will suffer.
“We can see a continued increase in legislation being introduced to undermine the will of the people,” she said.
To help quell the tide of harmful rhetoric in public office, she said voters need to do their research and participate in primary elections. She also reminded party leaders to do their part.
“Stand up and start telling the truth in public,” she said, “not just to people off the record or when the microphone is turned off.”
She suggested people also need to be reminded that the 2020 election was safe and produced no evidence of widespread fraud.