My priorities are North Dakota’s priorities

Almost exactly one year ago, I began my campaign for the U.S. Senate.

Since then, I’ve traveled to every corner of North Dakota, talking about the state’s priorities: passing a farm bill, advocating for an energy policy that recognizes the importance of North Dakota’s oil, gas and coal resources, ensuring our veterans can get access to the healthcare they were promised and getting our budget under control.

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But most of all, I talked about working to break the partisan gridlock in Washington — because few of North Dakota’s, and our nation’s, priorities will get properly addressed unless members of both parties find ways to work together again.

During my time as attorney general in North Dakota, crossing the aisle to get something done wasn’t a luxury but a way of life. Today the issues are different, but the need to work with both sides remains.

Partisan gridlock in Congress this year was so strong that it claimed the farm bill. Never mind that the farm bill supports 16 million jobs across the country and that agriculture is one of the few bright spots in our economy.

As the next senator from North Dakota, my No. 1 job is to see a farm bill finally passed and signed into law. Agriculture is still king in North Dakota, and a farm bill means our farmers and ranchers will have a stable crop insurance program they can rely on heading into next season.

The Senate farm bill, while not perfect, is a bipartisan bill that includes real reform — $23 billion in deficit savings and the elimination of direct payments to farmers. I will work hard to ensure that we get a bill that includes crop insurance provisions that are critical for our farmers.

Just as important is an energy policy that recognizes our abundant natural resources. Here again, partisan gridlock has stood in the way. One side wants to focus on coal and oil at the exclusion of all else, while the other side wants to increase sources of wind and solar.

Both sides are right.

Investing in both fossil fuels like coal, oil and natural gas and renewables including wind and solar and biofuels will benefit North Dakota. Earlier this year, North Dakota climbed to second place in the nation in oil production. And North Dakota has the potential to lead the nation in terms of wind energy production.

Unfortunately, gridlock in Congress means the wind production tax credit is set to expire at the end of the year. Already, family-supporting jobs have been lost in North Dakota as companies grapple with the uncertainty of what comes next without the tax credit.

Today, in large part because of increased oil drilling in North Dakota, our dependence on foreign oil has dropped. North Dakota, which has been fracking for years, already has rules to regulate the process of hydraulic fracturing. It’s important that federal one-size-fits-all regulations don’t interfere with a state’s ability to manage an energy process that can differ depending on local geology.

Equally important is remembering to honor the promises we made to our veterans — not just on Veterans Day, but every day. In North Dakota, nearly two-thirds of our veterans need to drive more than an hour to receive critical care. That’s simply unacceptable. We must find ways to do better, especially when winter weather makes it all the more difficult for some of our veterans to travel for care.

Finally, it’s clear that we can’t continue on the same path when it comes to the federal budget. Twelve years ago, former President Clinton put us on course to retire the nation’s debt by 2013. But since he left office, the federal government has accumulated a debt of more than $16 trillion.

I’m focused on a balanced approach that will allow us to honor the promises we made to seniors who rely on Social Security and Medicare and continue to make investments in education, our infrastructure and technological innovation. That means working with both sides to cut spending, but also asking those who make more than $1 million a year  —in North Dakota, that’s no more than 645 taxpayers — to help reduce the deficit.

Not long after I launched my campaign, a woman I met told me she understood that candidates run as “Democrats and Republicans,” but that once the election is over, we serve as “Americans.”

As part of a new class of lawmakers seeking to break the gridlock in Washington, I can think of no better guidepost.


Heitkamp, a Democrat, is the senator-elect from North Dakota.