As teabaggers sniff around for any hint of ideological deviancy from Republican candidates, there's no doubt that they should keep a close eye on Republican Gov. John Hoeven of North Dakota, now running for Senate.
In 1996, while running North Dakota's socialist bank (the only state-owned bank in the nation), Hoeven kicked around the idea of running for governor. Needing to choose a party to run under, Hoeven decided that his values were best represented by the Democratic Party. Writing to the North Dakota Democratic-NPL chair at the time, he wrote:
The recent call for me to seek elective office has caused me to reflect on political party affiliation.
I've thought very carefully as to the long term part commitment I should make, and have decided that I belong in the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party.
I have worked closely with and developed great respect for Democratic-NPL Party leaders. I believe the Party supports small business, quality jobs, education and a safety net for those who need it.
For those reasons, I am joining the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party.
North Decoder has the original letter, and has scanned and posted it on their site. But that letter wasn't the only expression of love for Democratic values. At the time, rumors abounded that he might run as a Republican, and Hoeven was deeply offended at the insinuation!
The effort to cast me as a member of the Republican Party is being engineered by partisan people who do not want to see me enter the governor's race. The truth is, I have not been to a Republican convention, even as an observer, other than one time as a young boy when my father attended [...]
I was hired into my current job by two of the state's leading Democrats, Heidi Heitkamp and Sarah Vogel. They hired me because of my work in economic development and community service, upon the recommendation of other Democratic-NPL leaders with whom I've worked closely and respect very much. People like Sen. Kent Conrad, Sen. Byron Dorgan, state Sen. Rolland Redlin, former state Sen. Larry Schoenwald and Rep. Everett Dobrinski.
I have always been moderate in my political views, but now that I am considering elective office, I realize I must join a political party and stick to it. I have decided to join the Democratic-NPL Party because I believe that is the best fit for my views.
Hoeven may have believed in the Democratic Party, but he believed even more in getting elected, so he ditched the Democrats for the GOP in 2000. But that wasn't a decision born of conviction, but electability. The guy is a weasel.
Still, he hasn't been a party line conservative in his tenure as governor -- now the longest serving in the nation. He has been solidly conservative (at least in rhetoric) on abortion and gay marriage, but on economic issues he veers into decidedly progressive territory.
Last year, Hoeven was more than happy to take stimulus money, and still features the spending prominently on his website (it's the top "highlight" on the upper-right hand corner here.) He has presided over massive new government spending in his state, up 25 percent in each of his last two budgets, angering fiscal conservatives in his state. But he's not afraid to defend the role of government in making people's lives better:
As the nation struggles through a severe national recession, most North Dakotans continue to work and raise their standard of living. They do so, in large measure, because of our state's aggressive economic development efforts in recent years, many of which link our universities with the private sector.
It would be infinitely better to have a Democrat retain the seat, if just for the social issues, but as far as Republican successors, you can't do much better (for us) than Hoeven. In a diminished Senate majority, Hoeven should be one of a handful of go-to "moderate" Republicans as Democrats look for bipartisan support on economic matters.
In fact, I wouldn't be surprised if Hoeven becomes the Democrats' favorite Republican. Or, long term, a future Arlen Specter-style party switcher.