McFeely: Not a good election night for Al Carlson

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It was only the June primary, and turnout was abysmal, but North Dakota House Majority Leader Al Carlson might be a little less sure of reelection after Tuesday. This will make Democrats happy. There are more than a few Republicans, Carlson's party, snickering, too. Disliking Al is often a bipartisan exercise.

In the District 41 (south Fargo) House primary, the longtime and powerful state representative received the fewest votes of the four candidates. On the Republican side, Michelle Strinden got 641 votes compared to Carlson's 546. Democrats Pam Anderson, also an incumbent, received 699 and newcomer Brandon Medenwald got 576.

It is meaningless insofar as all four candidates were going to advance to the November general election ballot anyway. And there was no crossover voting since North Dakota holds a closed primary—you can only vote for one party on your ballot.

But this is a horrible outcome for Carlson. He is one of the most powerful politicians in North Dakota, has been in the House for 25 years and has as high of name recognition as you're going to get for a state legislator.

Yet he finished nearly 100 votes behind an unknown newcomer in his own party and got fewer votes than an unknown newcomer Democrat in a Republican district Carlson has represented for decades.

Don't underestimate Carlson. He is savvy, well-connected, well-funded and just downright mean. He's a bully. He won't go quietly.

If he does lose his seat, it won't only be Democrats high-fiving each other. Carlson is that personally disliked among many Republicans.

• Local progressives missed a chance to take a seat on the Fargo City Commission by having too many candidates on the ballot, a mistake they've mastered in recent elections. Linda Boyd fell 103 votes short of incumbent conservative Dave Piepkorn, who took the second spot behind incumbent conservative Tony Gehrig. City elections are rightly non-partisan, but political leanings of the candidates are well-known among those who pay attention. Most progressives knew Boyd was going to have a difficult time once Arlette Preston entered the race. With Boyd, Preston, Mike Williams, Liz Maddock-Johnson and Lenny Tweeden all splitting progressive votes, it was too much to overcome. Maybe someday, progressives will work together to run only one or two really good candidates in the hope of taking away a seat from an incumbent with whom they disagree. Don't hold your breath.

• The United Republican Committee of Cass County sent out an email last week urging local GOPers to vote for its endorsed candidates on the Fargo ballot. It included endorsements for city commission, school board and park board. Yes, school board and park board. "In an effort to identify Republicans for local office the United Republicans of Cass County Board engaged in a vetting process for select local races. The URC based its endorsement on the candidates' involvement in the Republican Party and their response to a five-point public policy questionnaire," the endorsement email said. In allegedly nonpartisan local races, Republicans were urging votes for Republican candidates for school board and park board. It's the reality of politics, but that doesn't make it any less wrong. Republicans (or Democrats) openly playing party politics for local seats blows apart any pretense of non-partisanship.

• City politics in Bismarck do not get much attention in Fargo, but you should know this: North Dakota's capital city just elected a mayor who might be the most unqualified person to hold a significant office in the state. Right-winger Steve Bakken walloped incumbent conservative Mike Seminary 58 percent to 42 percent, which speaks more to Seminary's unpopularity than Bakken's chops for the job. Bakken has no political experience and is probably best-known—and we use that term loosely—for being an FM radio disc jockey on stations in Fargo and Bismarck, jobs from which he was fired. In other words, Bakken can't hold a radio job in North Dakota—which is an amazing "accomplishment." Those who worked in the same radio building with Bakken in Fargo—and I did—might question whether he has the ethical compass to be the mayor of any city, much less a state capital. It will be interesting to see if the city commission in Bismarck finds a way to work around Bakken.