A Minot man endorsed as North Dakota’s Democratic-NPL candidate for the U.S. House is finding the primary election campaign to be not quite what he originally expected.
Zach-ary Rakne-rud has been hosting online town halls and holding virtual reality events to counter a shutdown created by a coronavirus pandemic while facing a primary challenge from a Libertarian-leaning opponent with previous statewide ballot presence.
“COVID has definitely made the campaign very unique. It’s not what I was expecting when entering the race, but I think we’ve adapted nicely,” Raknerud said.
For Roland Riemers, who is mounting the primary challenge, the campaign hasn’t been entirely what he was anticipating, either. The pandemic has left streets in many small towns quiet as he drives through in a pickup truck adorned with slogans such as “Make US free again” and “Dump the Patriot Act.”
The two candidates are vying for the right to take on Republican Congressman Kelly Amstrong, who is seeking his second two-year term and is unchallenged in the primary.
Raknerud, who works in retail management, spent his early years in Grand Forks before moving with his family to Northwood. He earned a communications degree from the University of North Dakota and came to Minot in 2016. Two years ago he ran unsuccessfully for the N.D. House in Minot’s District 5.
In Minot in the 1970s, Riemers, now of Grand Forks, designed, built and lived in the first completely solar heated house in the northern United States. He was the educational director for Concerned Low Income People at that time, which did experimental, low-cost energy projects.
A former firefighter, engineering technician, school teacher, nurse, dairy farmer, judo instructor and union member, Riemers now is manager/owner of residential real estate. He served 12 years in the military. He’s been involved in North Dakota politics and civil rights for the past 30 years, including as Libertarian state chairman.
His list of campaign issues includes elimination of property taxes, shared parenting, judicial reform, legalized marijuana, guns rights and repeal of the Affordable Care Act. If elected, he proposes to not seek re-election.
“My biggest strength is that I would be an independent Congressman who would base the decisions on facts and not just party loyalty,” Riemers said. “In any legislation, I want to see the facts and not just the political glory. I don’t care if the Republicans or Democrats or Libertarians all have a position on a particular issue. I’ll look at the issue and decide on the facts.”
Raknerud said he is the party’s better choice because Riemers’ Libertarian bent doesn’t reflect the values of the Democratic-NPL Party. However, he also wants to shake up the party.
“My goal in this is to reform the Democratic Party,” he said. “It’s more about the priorities of policies that I’m bringing forward. I want to see these things become reality, and that’s only going to happen when young and working class people step up and run themselves and completely shock the political establishment by winning these races.
“The Democratic Party, over the past three decades, has really lost touch with working people. Since 2008, they’ve lost over 1,000 seats across the country because of that disconnect,” he added.
He said he can’t support the current Democratic leaders in the House and Senate because he finds them disconnected from the realities Americans face and beholden to the same donors as the GOP. Reforming the election system with publicly financed campaigns has a key point in his message.
Raknerud said his message hasn’t changed in the post-COVID-19 environment. Rather, he said, COVID-19 reinforces the need for expanding Medicare to cover all Americans, which is another key issue in his campaign.
“We need to have a single-payer health care system that ensures that Americans are always covered, no matter what their current status is with their job or occupation or their income,” he said. “Beyond the fact that I think a lot of our platform hasn’t changed, there are obviously new externalities present when it comes to the actions of Congress, when it comes to stimulus, and it comes to relief because of the pandemic. It’s clear to me that Congress has inadequately responded to these issues.”
A one-time payment to taxpayers should have come with a freeze on nonessential debt collection, including mortgages and rent, he said.
“Congress is not in tune with the needs of the American working class, and we’re going to bring a different perspective. If 26-year-old, random working class gentleman gets elected to Congress, that’s going to send a huge message to Washington, DC, that our current representation is not working,” he said.
Riemers is running because he believes Armstrong is more interested in party dictates than the wishes of North Dakotans.
Riemers also calls himself the anti-Trump candidate.
“I think he’s proven he’s incompetent and very self centered, and I think he needs to go,” he said of the president.
He opposes Trump’s plan to build a southern border wall. He consistently has supported Planned Parenthood and abortion rights. Concerned about global warming, he is an advocate for the long-term development of geothermal power. He also supports a strong space program and a balanced federal budget.
Riemers said the coronavirus stimulus package treated some people well and others poorly.
“I think if we’re going to help people it should be based on needs and not just another handout,” he said. “Let’s do sensible things based on facts, but let’s not just give money away. My children and my grandchildren are going to be paying for this giveaway years and years from now on. That really doesn’t sit well with me.”
Riemers takes the Libertarian position for a smaller government, lower taxes and more freedom.
He wants to see health costs constrained and prefers to see the federal government out of healthcare, although it now has an obligation with Medicare.
“I would like to see the states come up with their own programs,” Riemers said. “They’d probably do a better job on it, instead of more free handouts.”
Riemers has run for various state offices in recent years as a Libertarian or independent. He last ran for secretary of state in 2018. He said he’s been involved in both Republican and Democrat politics over the years.
If elected to Congress, his goal would be to have more offices scattered around the state, and he would be there on a regular basis to talk to constituents.
“If people are having problems, no matter what the issue, I would encourage them to speak up,” he said. “If they’re having problems with Washington, DC, and they need just need a friend to represent them on that particular issue, I will be that friend.”
The June 9 primary election is being held by mail-in ballot. Ballots must be postmarked by June 8 or, in Ward County, they can be deposited in one of seven dropboxes by 4 p.m. on June 9.
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