#HH4ND to #NA4HH to #NH4AS

I will never forget the look on U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s face as she stood watching Donald Trump sign legislation that effectively overturned the Environmental Protection Agency’s Stream Protection Rule. It would have kept coal companies, corporate agricultural operations and others from dumping waste, much of it toxic, into U.S. waterways. She was one of four Democrats who voted with every Republican in the Senate, save one, to overturn it.

Heitkamp was giddy. 

It made me ill.

Better Than a Bootlicking Imbecile. I Guess.

IV Words endorsed Heitkamp, D-ND.

Once. 

That was 2018, when she was running against her GOP challenger, U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer. As I said at the time, I’d gone from #HH4ND (Heidi Heitkamp for ND) to #NA4HH (Never Again for Heidi Heitkamp) and back to #HH4ND. What I didn’t say was that if she had been running against anyone who was more than the political equivalent of all three of Dorothy’s “Wizard of Oz” companions – no heart, no courage, no brain – I certainly wouldn’t have endorsed her and it’s highly unlikely I would have given her my vote. 

But I pinched my nose and voted for her. 

Cramer came out on top, anyway, and life moved on in the anti-people, bizarro, Trumpist world we slogged through for two more years. Since then, the new senator from North Dakota has made a name for himself as the most eager Trump bootlicker in Congress. 

Then, finally, the majority of U.S. voters fired the #OrangeMenace.

Strong Anti-Heitkamp Sentiment

In recent weeks, as Heitkamp has been on the short list of possibilities for President-Elect Joe Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture (USDA), I’ve been with the more than 160 organizations that strongly opposed that choice. 

The coalition, which comprises “environmental, food justice, sustainable agriculture, workers’ rights, animal welfare, social justice, public health, and anti-hunger organizations,” wrote letters to Biden and Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris asking that they not select the former North Dakota senator. 

“Heitkamp is the wrong choice for the USDA because she has aligned herself with corporate agribusiness at the expense of family farmers, supports fossil fuel interests, and holds views that are out of step with the Democratic Party and the majority of Americans,” they wrote.

There’s no doubt Heitkamp knows production agriculture, having also served as North Dakota’s attorney general and tax commissioner. However, there’s a lot more to the USDA than production farming and ranching. The department’s conservation, food and nutrition programs touch every person living in the United States in some way.

I didn’t want her brand of thinking on a wide range of issues that impact peoples’ lives anywhere near a position where she could influence Biden’s decision-making, not even a less-influential cabinet post.

So I began using a new hashtag – #NH4AS (No Heitkamp for Ag Secretary) – and citing specific reasons for my opposition.

“Anti-Environment Senator”

The Stream Protection Rule was just one example of Heitkamp’s pro-corporate, anti-environment stances. 

Prior to that, in 2015, Heitkamp joined Republicans in introducing legislation to oppose the Clean Water Rule, an EPA regulation intended to “protect the streams and the wetlands that one in three Americans rely on for drinking water.” At the time, President Barack Obama’s top environmental adviser nailed it when he said, “The only people with reason to oppose the rule are polluters who want to threaten our clean water.”

In fact, according to the League of Conservation Voters, Heitkamp’s environmental record was abysmal; she voted on the side of conservation and protection only 52 percent of the time. And we’re talking about regulations and legislation intended to protect the health and welfare of people like you and me.

Graph illustrating Heitkamp's abysmal environmental voting record
Graph by the League of Conservation Voters illustrating Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s record on environmental issues.

Foodtank summed it all up well:  

“As a senator who received more than $600,000 from fossil fuel interests, Heitkamp was a reliable defender of fossil fuels – voting with Republicans to block a carbon tax bill in 2013; attacking the Obama administration’s efforts to limit emissions in new power plants and leading an effort to lift a 40-year ban on U.S. oil exports. Heitkamp’s support for expanding drilling on public lands and construction of the Keystone and Dakota Access gas pipelines, against the interests of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in her state, seal her legacy as an anti-environment senator who received the second lowest lifetime rating among Democrats from the League of Conservation Voters at the time she left office.”

By the way, the Keystone has leaked, just as opponents have said it would. Perhaps ironically, the leak was in North Dakota.

Gun Regulation Fail

In 2013, in the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre where 20 children ages 6-7 were gunned down in cold blood, a bill that would have expanded background checks for firearms purchases came before the Senate.

Heitkamp was one of only four Democrats to vote against it.

The contemptuous reactions came from across the nation. A TIME magazine piece a few months later about women in Congress, in a section titled “A Greater Responsibility,” reported, “When Heitkamp voted against tightening gun laws after the Newtown school shooting, she was unprepared for the backlash, particularly from women’s groups.

“A female friend in the Senate said to me, ‘You know, it’s because they feel you represent all women, not just the women of North Dakota,’ Heitkamp says. ‘And it just clicked for me for the first time. I was, like, ‘Oh, now I get it.’”

But she didn’t. During her tenure, Heitkamp consistently voted against reasonable gun safety legislation and regularly received A ratings from the National Rifle Association. Meanwhile, kids continued to be murdered in their schools, crime involving firearms continued unabated and the USA’s gun culture continued to thrive.

So much for “greater responsibility.”

Supremely Screwed

Heitkamp also was one of three Democrats who voted to confirm ultra-conservative Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. True, she voted against the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh, but apparently that slam dunk was a gut-wrenching decision. One also has to wonder how she would have voted on Amy Coney Barrett. Regardless, Gorsuch is now part of the ultra-conservative block that has already started moving this nation backward in terms of women’s rights, the separation of church and state, economic equity and other social justice issues. We’ll be stuck with him for decades.

#NoDAPL, Don’t Care

Speaking of social injustice, the Dakota Access Pipeline standoff wasn’t just an example of Heitkamp’s anti-environmental bent; it also provided another excellent indicator of her lack of concern for people. She was missing in action throughout the #NoDAPL confrontation in terms of supporting the Native American water protectors in her own state. When she did finally say something, it was a noncommittal statement about the Obama administration’s “delay in taking action” and Donald Trump’s intention to move the project forward as quickly as possible.

Trump’s Choice

Honestly, all I really needed to know to oppose Heitkamp is that Trump seriously considered her to be his secretary of agriculture in 2016. And she took the meeting. Being in contention for and seriously considering a cabinet position under a man who had already proven himself to be elitist, racist and sexist does not reflect well on one’s own character.

Biden’s Choice

So I’m back to #NA4HH.

Granted, the majority of North Dakotans view most of the points listed here as positives, as arguments in favor of appointing Heitkamp to the cabinet. But then again, 65 percent of North Dakotans voted for Trump this year, more than the 62.9 percent that voted for him in 2016.

Fortunately, President-Elect Biden had several strong options. Thankfully, he took one of them.

Green outlined graphic indicating copyright 2019 Martin C. Fredricks IV
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