Kevin Cramer, one of North Dakota’s three Public Service Commissioners, will face off against fellow Commissioner Brian Kalk for the Republican nomination to the state’s lone seat in the U.S. House of Representatives. Last week, Cramer sat down with Times-Record reporter David Luessen for an interview.
(Note: An interview with Kalk was published in the May 18 edition of the Times-Record and is available online at www.Times-Online.com )
Cramer’s association with the Republican party began at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., where he received an associates degree in social work. He joined the College Republicans and voted for Ronald Reagan in 1980.
“I still have a large portrait of Reagan hanging in my office right now,” he said.
After college he worked for campaigns, the legislature and the State Republican Party.
Cramer said his political aggression grew throughout the 1980s, as he watched his party repeatedly lose elections every two years. In 1991, at age 30, he became Chairman of the State Republican Party, making him the youngest state party chairman in the U.S., the youngest member of the Republican National Committee and the youngest chairman of either party in the history of North Dakota.
Cramer worked under former Governor Ed Schafer for several years, and in 2003, Governor John Hoeven appointed Cramer to fill a vacancy in the Public Service Commission, where he was re-elected to that seat in 2004 and 2010.
Why did you skip the endorsement election at the State Republican Convention?
You get the endorsement at the convention, you don’t get the nomination. The nomination has to be earned at the primary. The purpose of the primary is a backstop to inside politics. It’s to ensure that the voters ultimately have an opportunity at the most grassroots level to choose the party’s candidates.
As a result of tradition in North Dakota, we’ve allowed the party convention to exclusively pick that person. And it’s been a fine process, none of them are perfect processes, but this particular go around when there’s six candidates seeking this one endorsement, and so few people making the decision, my concern was the opportunity for volatility. It had the potential to remove the electoral process.
Now you did attend the state convention in Bismarck and saw the younger Republicans facing off against the party elite. As a former College Republican, and someone who has worked to remove exclusivity in the party, is there a lack of unity in the State Republican Party?
God bless the old guard, we wouldn’t be where we are without them, but at the same time, if we want to stay where we are we better welcome the young guard in.
The difference is when I broke into it, the old guard wasn’t successful. The need for change was obvious. It’s less obvious today when you have as much success as we’ve had. When you cave 12 out of 12 elected offices, super majorities in both chambers, two thirds of the congressional delegation, you have a very big tent. You have a lot of diversity, and if you welcome that sort of discussion and that sort of debate, you’re going to have a very lively debate at something like a convention.
But give me that any day: Give me the vigorous, lively disagreement and diversity over apathy that’s disguised as unity. So while it may have seemed distasteful to some – and frankly it went too far. There’s no question that people made mistakes. I would say certainly the people on the stage made a very large mistake in trying to squelch the debate.
Political parties exist to facilitate democracy, not to squash it. If you forget that, you run a very high risk of becoming a minority party fast. And certainly the people from the floor could have been more diplomatic in the way they carried out their protests.
I sat there and had a pretty good view from where I was sitting, not just literally but figuratively. I rather enjoyed it.
So how would you tackle government spending?
There’s a couple of things I want to do. The first thing I want to do is roll back our federal budget to 2008 levels, because 2008 is prior to Obama care, prior to stimulus and bailouts, and all of that stuff has raised the floor of our budget process. So while we’ve been for three years without a budget, congress has been acting and appropriating based on continuing resolution, but it’s a warped resolution because the floor of the budget is so high. So we need to roll back to 2008.
Then I want to insist on agencies doing exactly what I was doing when I was in Gov. Schafer’s cabinet: Every biennium the Governor required us to submit budgets that were lower than 100 percent. What I’d like is to insist that every federal agency submit a budget that is 4 to 5 percent lower than the existing budget. To do that, they’ll need to prioritize and lop off the bottom priority. Find entire programs that aren’t necessary, are outdated, could be more efficiently combined with some other budget.
Also, put a hiring freeze on all federal employees. By doing that you force a greater budgetary discipline. Now, does that mean every agency, every year, is going to be 4 or 5 percent lower? No, but it forces the process of them setting priorities, then through that process congress can deal with real numbers and help prioritize spending.
And 800-pound gorilla in the room that no one wants to talk about: We have to deal with the entitlement issue, and that’s Social Security and Medicare. I think we have to fulfill our promise, our obligation to seniors who paid into the system with an expectation, but at some point we have to draw a line.
Energy Policy has been a hot topic in this election cycle, and energy policy and foreign policy have been drifting closer and closer together. What are your views?
It’s an area where I have expertise; I deal with it every day. And our national security is tied directly to our energy security. North Dakota is a prime example of a solution to the challenge. One of the distinctions I will make is I don’t advocate energy independence. I’m not against it, but it’s not something I advocate.
I advocate energy security, the difference being that I believe in global markets. If we’re energy secure as a nation, if someone else’s energy is lower, if oil can be purchased from OPEC lower than the price of oil in Canada, we as consumers ought to be able to have access to that. We don’t want to create our own monopoly because then the prices go up and we rob our citizens, our consumers, of opportunity. But having said that, we should be energy secure. We need to reign in these very zealous regulators who take existing laws or ignore existing laws, and create new rules at the bureaucratic level to make it much more difficult to do things like mining coal and turning it into electricity, drilling for oil on federal lands, whether it’s in the Rocky Mountains or offshore, where ever it might be. We’ve got to have regulations that are consistent with today’s technologies that allow us to get so much more of our own fossil fuels.
In addition to that, we’ve got to make it easier for utilities to explore the possibility of more nuclear power. Nuclear power is clean, and we’ve never had a nuclear accident in the United States of America that created a fatality, or even really an injury. We’ve got to stop being so fearful. We have the expertise and the technology to make advancements these days to build many more nuclear facilities in this country.
We have a lot of opportunity, and we ought not to leave it in the ground.