GOP's 'Nuclear North Dakota'

Pullen Retreats From Party Post

Phoenix, Ariz.—Less than a month after Republican Gov. Jan Brewer and Sen. John McCain romped to re-election and Arizona Republicans deposed two Democratic U.S. House members, something very unusual happened within the Grand Canyon State GOP: Their state party chairman was effectively denied another term.

It wasn’t an up-or-down vote of the Republican State Committee that unseated conservative swashbuckler Randy Pullen from the state chairmanship. Rather, in the voting for positions on the 135-member state committee from Legislative District 11, Pullen fell short of being re-elected to the party’s governing committee and, under party rules, cannot serve as state chairman. (Pullen could have arranged his own appointment to the state committee, as the state chairman can appoint some of its members. But he chose not to pursue this avenue and will leave the chairmanship January 22nd.)

The dislodging of Pullen was the top political story in Arizona for more than a week and was the subject of the lead editorial in the Arizona Republic November 22. How, I wondered, could a state party deny its chairman another term after such a triumphant election year?
“You have to remember I wasn’t denied another term as state chairman, only a seat on the state committee from my district,” Pullen told me over dinner at the celebrated El Chorro Restaurant in Phoenix two nights before Thanksgiving. “To understand what happened, you have to look at who else lives in my district.”

It wasn’t too difficult to grasp what he meant. Along with Pullen, other residents of District 11 in suburban Phoenix include Republican Senators McCain and Jon Kyl, both of whom have long been at odds with the state chairman. While both McCain and Kyl supported what is widely known as “the Arizona law” to make it easier for law enforcement officials to identify illegal immigrants, Pullen has been forcefully out front on the issue. The chairman, in fact, has trumpeted the Arizona law nationwide in radio, television and print forums (including HUMAN EVENTS)—perhaps, it seems, too vociferously for “establishment” Republicans.

In addition, there are the issues so common to state parties of “who’s in charge” and “whose man is he.” Pullen was never close to either McCain or Kyl and both opposed him when he first won the chairmanship in ’07. When Pullen narrowly won re-election to the party helm in ’09, more moderate opponent Lisa James had the backing of Kyl. ( McCain remained neutral. )

Pullen’s exit from the chairmanship also means that he will not continue to be a member of the Republican National Committee, of which he serves as treasurer (and has been at odds with RNC Chairman Michael Steele). But RNC rules permit a non-member to serve as an officer and Pullen told me he plans to seek re-election as treasurer at the committee’s Winter meeting in January.

Also in Arizona: SB 1070, the Arizona law dealing with illegal immigration, clearly has shelf life beyond the election. Two weeks ago, their majority enhanced since November 2, Arizona Senate Republicans elected the father of 1070 as their new senate president. Wielding the gavel for the first time, Sen. Russell Pearce announced creation of a new senate committee on border security.

GOP’s ‘Nuclear North Dakota’

In ’04, a U.S. Senate candidate in another state raised eyebrows during a televised debate when, obviously meaning to say North Korea, he warned of the dangers of a “nuclear North Dakota.”

After November 2, the only thing truly nuclear in North Dakota is its Republican Party, because 2010 was a banner year for the Roughrider State GOP. Gov. John Hoeven won the seat of retiring Democratic Sen. Byron Dorgan by the biggest margin of any new Republican senator this year. In addition, former state House Majority Leader Rick Berg handily won North Dakota’s lone U.S. House seat by a comfortable margin, ousting e18-year Democratic Rep. Earl Pomeroy.
But that’s not all. Slowly but surely, Republicans in have been winning enough legislative seats and statewide offices to leave the Democrats with a very sparse bench for future races. As of January, Republicans will rule the state house of representatives with 72 seats to 22 for the Democrats and, in the state senate, Republicans will hold 35 out of 47 seats.

Republicans also hold every statewide office except that of superintendent of education, which is by law a non-partisan office.

With North Dakota Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad facing the voters next year, Republicans are sure to field a strong candidate against him and their bench seems to be full of talent for the future. With Hoeven set to resign the governorship to become senator, a fellow Republican, Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple will assume the state’s top post December 7. Dalrymple won applause from conservatives for naming former U.S. Attorney Drew Wrigley as his own replacement as lieutenant governor. A University of North Dakota graduate and former assistant district attorney in Philadelphia, Wrigley won high marks for his stint as the top federal lawman in North Dakota and is considered a young conservative leader to watch.

The Count Continues

One month after the midterm elections, some races are just now being decided, while others are still up in the air and may not be settled until Christmas.

The First Is Last: With the recent concessions of Democratic incumbents to Republicans Ann Marie Buerkle in New York’s 25th District (see Page 19) and Blake Farenthold in Texas’ 27th District, the GOP has so far made a net gain of 63 seats in the U.S. House. The only undecided House race is in New York’s 1st District (Suffolk County), where the lead is going back and forth between Democratic Rep. Tim Bishop and Republican businessman Randy Altschuler (see “Politics,” November 23). The two contenders have been as close as 15 votes out of 180,000 cast, but last week Bishop took a lead of about 235 votes. Some 2000 absentee ballots are under fire in court from both sides, meaning the race may be decided as late as Christmas.

High Drama in Colorado: Although Republicans lost nationally watched races for governor and U.S. senator in Colorado, they picked up two U.S. House seats and won control of the state house of representatives. Last week, GOP State Rep. Kathleen Curry conceded defeat to Democratic challenger Roger Wilson in the 61st District, leaving Democrats with 32 out of 65 seats in the House. However, Republican Bob Ramierez edged out Democratic State Rep. Debbie Benefield in District 29 (Jefferson County) after provisional ballots were counted, and thus Republicans control the House by one seat.

Cooley Off Period: The lone statewide race in which California Republicans had a chance of victory is finally, to the GOP’s disappointment, over. By a margin of 50,000 votes (or less than 1% of the vote)’s far-left Democratic San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris won the office of state attorney general over moderate-to-conservative Republican Steve Cooley, three-term district attorney of Los Angeles County. Golden State GOPers had high hopes for Cooley, given Harris’s strong opposition to the death penalty and her support for making San Francisco a sanctuary city for illegal immigrants. But so strong was the tide behind Democratic Gov.-elect Jerry Brown (who relinquished the office of attorney general to run for governor) that Democrats (who won every other statewide race handily) had enough momentum to put the controversial Harris over Cooley