Ep. 73 North Dakota, land of Hotdish and Heidi Heitkamp

Heidi Heitkamp: More than anything you know. Well we'll try and figure out how we make sure everybody has a right to vote. But but honestly what I will tell you is the purposeful disenfranchisement of Native American voters, to me it just takes us back to the 20’s. And we're going to do everything that we can to make sure that every Native American person, regardless of who they vote for, votes in this election.

Welcome to North Dakota!

That’s US Senator Heidi Heitkamp, talking about the recently enacted North Dakota Voter ID law, which makes it particularly difficult for Native Americans living on reservations to vote. We went to North Dakota looking for the Senator, and we found her the first night we were there - at North Dakota State University, where she was getting ready to address a room full of students. Two days later, we found her at a Grand Forks Hotdish Night, where a packed house of supporters filled tables with hotdishes, and got up on their feet to cheer for the Senator. Hotdishes are part of the North Dakota culture. Later, we’ll have a special interview with Thomasine Heitkamp, Heidi’s sister, about hotdishes, including the Heitkamp family favorite. In between Fargo and Grand Forks, we had great conversations - with Ruth Buffalo, who helped start a task force for missing and murdered Indigenous women, a state GOP staffer whose family owns a farm and a hardware store, with a North Dakota farmer deeply troubled about the trade wars, and with protestors standing outside Fargo’s Abortion Clinic. And we stumbled across a herd of sheep in the North Dakota grasslands. As in all our travels, we go exploring the Congressional district, the Senate race, the politics, and we find America.

Welcome to another episode of The MidPod. I’m Heather Atwood and I’m Nicie Panetta. We’re two moms, who’ve traveled America this year to chronicle the most important set of elections in our lifetimes, the 2018 midterms, which are now just days away. Are you wondering what’s left to do besides vote? Well, there is more to do now. Talking to people in the last four days before an election is one of the most powerful things you can do to get out the vote and encourage support for candidates. Check out TheLastWeekend.org for ways to get involved and sign up. We need to elect leaders who will begin to repair this broken U.S. Congress, our first branch of government and to restore decency and integrity in American public life.

Chapter 1: We’re in a Fight for the Direction of this Country.

Everyone said she was done when she voted “no” on confirming Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court. The Republicans said that’s not what North Dakotans want. And, it is not looking great for Heidi Heitkamp, but everyone also predicted she’d lose in 2012. What you have to know, is that given Heidi Heitkamp’s history of supporting victims of domestic abuse, sex trafficking and missing and murdered Indigenous women, she had no choice but to vote “no” on Kavanaugh. After the vote, the New York Times reported her mother had been a victim of sexual assault, too. You can hear our full interview with Senator Heitkamp in Episode 69, where she describes her legislative work in more detail. But here we’ll share with you a little of her speech with the North Dakota State University students:

Heitkamp: You know, I’m going to tell you a story. I grew up in a town of 90 people. Just to the south of here, Matador, North Dakota. And when I grew up it wasn't my parents didn't have anything, but my mom told us from the time we were this high, we were going to college. Now think about that: four kids. No real, I mean no one ever thought a kid could go to college if their parents were poor. You just went to work. And so my generation, my father didn't even go to high school. His dad wouldn’t let him. He went to right work out of the eighth grade, then went to war, and then came back. And so my parents valued education. And so I went to college. My sisters and my brothers went to college. And we graduated from college and we had that economic opportunity, and here's the kicker: it took me three years to pay off my student debt and I went to law school. How many of you guys can say that? You can’t save for your retirement, you can't start a family, because we have saddled you with so much student debt, we have saddled you with the debt of this country, and we have told you suck it up and just let us, just pass on that infrastructure, pass on debt and deficit to you. It's time you vote.

According to the website GovTrack, Heitkamp is one of the most moderate voices in the U.S. Senate. She’s a Democrat who votes with Trump 54 percent of the time. She sits on the Agriculture Committee, and has been deeply involved in writing the 2014 and 2018 Farm Bills. Agriculture is 25 percent of the state’s economy. You have to know Heitkamp also has a podcast called “Hotdish with Heidi.” Great name, right? And she has at least one episode, if not more, that go deeply into the economics of the Farm Bill and the markets and the trade wars, and she talks to Tom Vilsack, who used to be the Secretary of Agriculture, it’s really a great conversation and there’s a lot to learn.

Trump almost actually named Heitkamp Secretary of Agriculture. She’s also on the Subcommittee on Rural Energy. Around 2006, new technologies in fracking and drilling opened up the Bakken Shale Formation to oil in the western part of the state. This economic engine revved for about 8 years. In 2014, it was producing more oil than the OPEC nation of Qatar. The industry has stuttered, but the state was able to put away 6 to 7 billion dollars as a “legacy fund” from all those oil sales. We’ll have more in a bit on the social consequences of this energy party, consequences that Heitkamp is also fighting to address. Fundamentally, she’s very worried about where Republican policy is taking us.

Heitkamp: And so there are so many equity issues, whether it is murdered and missing indigenous women, whether it is childhood trauma, whether it is making sure that we deal respectfully with victims of sexual assault. Whether it is we make your future affordable for you, and your economic opportunities available for you. We're in a fight. We're in a fight for the direction of this country.

About that Voter ID Law she talked about before. Heitkamp won election to the US Senate in 2012 by less than 3,000 votes, most of them from Native Americans. In 2013, the Republican controlled state legislature set to work on a law that would require North Dakota voters to present ID’s with street addresses at the polls. Now Native American communities do not have street addresses because the U.S. Post Office does not provide residential delivery there. It only assigns P.O. boxes. After a series of appeals, the Supreme Court in October - just weeks away from the midterm elections - allowed a Circuit court decision to stand, declaring the law constitutional. Tribal leaders have moved fast. They have a plan to establish stations at every reservation polling station. As people come to vote, tribal leaders will issue residential addresses on the spot and new ID’s. They claim they have the sovereign right to issue street addresses. Now, the North Dakota Secretary of State refuses to comment, saying it is not in his power to affirm sovereign rights. The situation is fluid, which probably is not a good thing to say about voting rights. But the stakes in North Dakota are high. Colby Warzecha is vice president of the College Dems at North Dakota State University. He had this to say about just how important this race is.

Colby Warzecha: You know on 538, which I read religiously, the voting power index, the last time I checked, was something like 26.8 here in North Dakota, a vote in North Dakota is worth like about 27 votes, in other places. In Minnesota, it's something like 1 or 2 votes. So I tell people, a vote in North Dakota is the most powerful vote you can cast in the midterm this year.

A state with a population of 750,000 may decide what party will control the U.S. Senate, who will determine policy, Supreme Court nominations, issues of impeachment, and more, for our country’s future. This is what is at stake in the North Dakota Senate race.

Chapter 2: Since the Point of First Contact.

Ruth Buffalo: [Native language]. My name is Ruth Buffalo, I carry my late grandmother Ruth's Hidatsa name “woman appears.” I'm originally from Manderee, North Dakota, that's located on the western side of the state. I currently live in South Fargo with my husband and four children. I have a public health background and I'm an educator and small-business owner and granddaughter, daughter of military veterans.

Buffalo is running for the State Senate in a district that begins in Fargo and runs south to a rural landscape of ranchers and farmers. Native Americans are the largest ethnic minority in this state, around 10 percent of the population. But, currently, there’s only one Native American in the state legislature, from the Turtle Mountain Band of the Chippewa. Buffalo’s tribe is the Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara Nation. Her hometown of Mandaree is now referred to as the heart of that Bakken Shale Formation, that oil activity we described earlier. The economic boon to the state has been significant, but, according to Buffalo, there have been enormous consequences, many dire.

Drugs and crime increased. What about the impact on women? The impact on women has increased. Human trafficking has always been here in North Dakota or in the Dakotas, but it did have an impact. But, when the oil production decreased, human trafficking still stayed pretty steady, if not taking a small increase. So yeah that's a huge issue, that many people are working on.

Hundreds of thousands of workers, mostly single men, flooded into the Bakken area starting in 2006, to work. They call them “man-camps,” the acres of FEMA-like trailers or tinny RV’s where the men live. The oil fields have introduced a new criminality to these tribal lands. To be clear: there’s an epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women across the U.S. and Canada. In some counties in the US, Indigenous women disappear and are murdered at rates 10 times the national average, according to a Justice Department study. In 2016, there were over 5,700 cases reported. Lorretta Saunders. Tina Fontaine: 15 years old. Olivia Lone Bear. The actress Misty Upham, who starred in Frozen River. Savanna Lafontaine Greywind from Fargo. Ruth Buffalo has started the Fargo-Morehead Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Human Trafficking Task Force to address this issue locally.

How do you talk with your own children about these issues? It must be difficult to talk about it without terrifying them, if they’re very small or if they’re even middle schoolers and to instill pride in their tribe and yet be realistic about what’s going on. Try to stay proactive and try to shield our children the best we can. You know, like from last fall when the murder of Savanna Greywind happened, I was, you know, involved with that heavily as far as becoming a volunteer, being a helper, providing search supplies and then being pushed out in front and asked to lead a search the Sunday, which was my birthday, and later that evening kayakers found the body. After that occurred you know just talks with my daughter to and from school when I would drop her off, you know, she's in high school and so having these talks with her like you know you have to be aware of your surroundings, you can't trust anybody, you know. But trying to be careful too to not to not taint her image of the world, you know, still wanting her to love people and have love for each other and one another.

There had been a march the previous night in Fargo.

For justice, for Savanna and all missing and murdered Indigenous people. Cause we believe, through our task force, we don't want the missing and the murdered to be forgotten about. We want to make sure that we're continuing to raise awareness. You know, if we can't be out in searches which a lot of us found ourselves being in searches the first time a year ago for Savanna, a lot of us were first timers you know, the first thing I did was reach out to lady who does this work, that's her life's passion, you know. And so I think with anything, you know, it's good to reach out to people who are already doing this work and get their advice and their guidance on things which was really helpful. But today, you know, there are searches that continue to go on throughout the country, but many of us can't leave even though we would like to you know with Olivia Lone Bear. And she was a mother of six children who went missing last October from Newtown, North Dakota from the western side of the state where I'm from, we're from the same tribe, and her body was recently found in the lake in August. So I wasn't unfortunately able to go back and help with that search, but we organized a search supply drive last winter here in Fargo and then took the supplies back to the family to help. So I think, you know, everybody can play a role in some way whether it's just a Facebook share or reaching out to people you might know in a certain area and say ‘hey, can you check your houses, your farm buildings to see if there might be something out of the ordinary.’

Their assailants are mostly non-native, white, and outside the reach tribal law enforcement. This is another issue that gives criminals the upper hand on Native American lands. As a result of a 1978 Supreme Court decision, tribal police have no jurisdiction over non-Native Americans on reservations. This means, in practice, that on tribal lands, non-natives can often commit crimes without fear of arrest or prosecution. Here’s Buffalo again:

This has been an existing issue or problem since the point of first contact. But I think our younger generation are standing up for the voiceless, you know, and saying, this isn't right. We can have a voice we can stand up and seek and speak for justice in our communities. You know, Canada has more, their government recognizes this issue of missing and murdered indigenous women. But the United States we're not there yet. There's a lot of work to be done.

The first bill Heidi Heitkamp co-sponsored in the US Senate was the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. It included amendments to protect Native Women by changing this jurisdictional issue, allowing tribal police to prosecute non-natives on tribal lands. After contentious protest by House Republicans, the provision was finally enacted in 2015. Most recently, Heitkamp introduced legislation named for Savanna Lafontaine Greywind. It’s called Savanna’s Act. This legislation seeks to expand the Amber Alert system onto Native lands, and provides funds for better communication between federal agencies, so that they can investigate crimes more efficiently. Here’s Heitkamp speaking on a Fargo TV station KVRR about Savanna’s Act.

We are already achieving what I had hoped to achieve which is awareness. When you tell people that in some parts of this country and Indian country 90 percent of all women are victims of violence people's eyes open up and when you can say just even down in Standing Rock by by doing a survey door to door you can find 25 women who have been murdered or are missing just on that reservation when you talk to people in Mandan-Hidatsa-Arikara nation and they tell you in the last 20 months five women have been murdered on their reservation. Those are murder rates that are just intolerable in this country and we need public attention. We need the FBI to take a more aggressive role. We need to know what the problem is and that's what we hope to accomplish with this bill. But it's just a first step and we're already accomplishing I think the public awareness that we need to accomplish to help solve this problem.

Chapter 3: They Are Pioneers of the Prairie

Here’s some background on Kevin Cramer, Heitkamp’s opponent in the U.S. Senate Race. In 2013, Cramer was elected to represent North Dakota in the state’s lone U.S. House of Representatives seat. As a newly elected Congressman, in 2013, Cramer found himself in a well-reported hostile conversation with Native American women from the Spirit Lake Tribe, much of the argument was regarding that provision in the Violence Against Women Act. In that meeting, Cramer said, “tribal Governments are dysfunctional. Tribal Courts are dysfunctional, and how could a non-Native man get a fair trial on the reservations?” He also said he wanted to “wring the tribal council’s necks and slam them against a wall.” Then, he said he did not feel safe on tribal lands. There’s a detailed account of this event, written by Melissa Merrick, the woman Cramer attacked on our resource page. Cramer has voted to repeal - without replacing - the Affordable Care Act five times, votes that would eliminate protections for pre-existing conditions. He does not believe in climate change. Cramer defended Roy Moore, the Republican candidate in the special election for U.S. Senate in Alabama, saying Moore should be held to a different standard because the sexual misconduct allegations against him occurred 40 years ago. Here is Cramer on the Fargo television station KX4 saying just why Supreme Court nominee - now Justice - Brett Kavanaugh’s alleged attack on Christine Blasey-Ford was unimportant.

Point was that there was no start type of intercourse or anything like that. That was my point. Nothing happened in terms of a sexual event beyond obviously the event. Even if it's all true, does it disqualify him?

Cramer told The New York Times that North Dakotans don't support the #MeToo movement which he describes as a movement toward victimization because he says they are pioneers of the prairie. Now that New York Times reporter approached Senator Heitkamp around the same time and reported to her what Cramer had said. She was shocked. But she handled it really well she said, "I'm so happy for the women in Kevin Cramers family that they have never had to experience any sort of sexual assault like this but I have to say my mother did." Now the senator has not said much more about that. It's clearly a painful moment.

Chapter 4: Everybody Knows Everybody.

We visited with political scientist Kjersten Nelson at North Dakota State University to get some context on the state’s politics. We started out by asking her how the national trend toward hyper-partisanship has played out here.

Kjersten Nelson: I would say, and I wish I had some data to back this up, but based on my observations, that I think that national trends are starting to come home to roost here a little bit more. Even, I would say 7 to 10 years ago, there were still kind of that pride of it's different here, right. That we're very independent. We aren't as aligned with the national parties. I think maybe that attitude still exists, but it feels like the polarized rhetoric of the national scene is playing out here more commonly.

Racial resentment, white voters' fear of losing status - these were key factors in getting Donald Trump elected president. Listen to our interview with Nancy Cohen for more, but we asked Nelson whether these feelings play a role in North Dakota politics.

Nelson: I don't have any reason to think it's any different here. It's less racially diverse than many other states. We had a big conflict around the Dakota Access Pipeline. I think that brought out a lot of latent resentment, racial resentment that we thought we didn't have just because we didn't have the chance for it. So I don't see that as being any different here than it was nationally.

The Dakota Access Pipeline begins in the Bakken Shale Formation, and carries oil south, across the state, across South Dakota and Iowa, to an oil storage facility in Patoka, Illinois. Indigenous people in North Dakota, particularly the Sioux, protested as it was being built, claiming that the pipeline would disturb sacred burial grounds and threaten both wildlife and water on their reservation. The protest attracted more than 15,000 people, many from out of state. President Obama ordered a halt to the pipeline and asked for studies to be done on a different route. But, in one of his first executive orders, Donald Trump signed a memorandum to restart construction of the pipeline, which now operates today. Nelson did point out something that makes North Dakota politics - different.

Nelson: Everybody kind of knows everybody here, and pairing that with a very conflict averse sort of culture, I think being a watchdog here is harder than, I feel like it is in other places I've lived. If you are, it feels more personal. And so, I think it's hard to be a vigorous media, not that we don't have some, but I think it's hard to be, to live in a community these sizes, but to be the one who's supposed to be asking the hard questions I think is difficult.

Chapter 5: We have to support the President and his efforts.

On our way to an apple festival, we stopped at Republican headquarters in Fargo, where Dawson Schefter said “yes” to an interview. This is the first time we received a welcome from any GOP office we’d visited. Schefter is Chief of Staff for Rick Berg, chair of the North Dakota Republican Party. Schefter grew up on a farm in the northeastern corner of the state, so we were curious to hear his take on Trump’s trade war. Trump has imposed tariffs on 200 billion dollars’ worth of Chinese imports. China has retaliated by imposing harsh tariffs on many American agricultural products, targeting those grown in states strong on Trump.

Dawson Schefter: I'm a farm guy, right. I'm not that removed from the farm and I know that, you know, farmers right now, they're concerned about the trade issues, but at the same time, what we consistently hear, everywhere we go, I mean we were just out on a farm for an event, and I know Senator Ernst and Representative Cramer just met with soybean growers. They know that this is what's right for future generations. We have to get China under control, I mean they're a bad actor. And so, while in the short-term, there is some concern, we also know that in the long term this is what's best for you know the sons and you know and that and the grandchildren that are going to farm on this land. So, that's the outlook, and right now, I mean, we have to support the president and his efforts. And I think that that's so important and so critical, that the United States supports this president in his efforts, so that we don't undermine what he's trying to do here.

Nicie asked Schefter if he thought we were the enemy of the people:

Schefter: Hey, I appreciate you walking into our office today asking for a sit down and to visit, I do. And I think that, you know, you come to North Dakota you're going to meet a lot of nice people and, you know, I think I understand the president's frustration, a lot of times, and I think, you know, even in the media I'm sure you guys are familiar you guys are familiar with, you know, the skew that can be put on things, and so we do a lot of real hard work in the state of North Dakota and I think that the president is doing a lot of real hard work in Washington, D.C. And so that's why we really value that. And I think, you know, you're doing real hard work out here today, too. Thank you for your time, we really appreciate it.

Chapter 6: The World Needs This Grain.

We met Jim Dotzenrod at Heidi Heitkamp’s Hotdish night in Grand Forks. Dotzenrod is an Air Force veteran of Vietnam. He was a paratrooper and he came home in the early 70s thinking he would become an engineer. But then he saw what needed doing on the family farm and stayed on. He farms 2,600 acres of corn and soy in southeast North Dakota with his son and his brother. He’s also a state legislator, and he’s decided to run for North Dakota Ag Commissioner. Dotzenrod is worried that Trump’s trade war is destroying the markets North Dakota farmers have spent years building up. He sees farmers breaking into two camps: the one who thinks there’s genius in Trump’s trade war - like Dawson Schefter, and...

Jim Dotzenrod: There's a second group that I'm part of, that says, you know, I think we're on a path here that is basically communicating to our buyers that they need to find other suppliers, that the U.S. just isn't dependable, it's too much chaos, too much uncertainty, and it looks like, from everything we're reading about China, they are working on building up infrastructure in South America and other parts of the world.

Dotzenrod says that China is already building a rail system into remote grasslands that they’ve purchased in Brazil. He anticipates China will soon be farming soy there, too. The reason that soy is so important to China is because it’s the perfect feed for pigs, the perfect balance of amino acids and protein. And China has 400 million pigs to feed. One thing no one is discussing is the fortunes recently invested in agriculture in these western states. Huge infrastructure investments in the Pacific Northwest Rail have meant crops from the Dakotas, Nebraska, Montana, and parts of western Minnesota can now be shipped to the west coast super efficiently, and then exported.

Dotzenrod: So they really are moving volumes, unbelievable volumes, of grain through this very efficient modern system. In my corner of the state here, the southeast corner, we've had three big facilities built here in the last two years, they’re all in that 30 to 35 billion dollar cost. They gather the grain in, farmers can come in there and dump their trucks in two minutes and be back out headed back to the field again. These facilities, all three of them, are set up to load unit train cars, basically a unit train that will get on that rail line and go west and get unloaded quickly and will come back again. So, there’s a system in place that is built not just to maintain trade, but a vision going forward that we're going to be expanding, that this system that's built up, the Pacific Northwest route has behind it the investors, that have put money into it, a belief that they're going to see growth, in not just trade level, but trade expansion, because we are raising these yields at a fairly high rate or we’re just producing so much more. And that we've had this sense that the world needs this grain and that we've found the system, a pretty efficient way to get it from where we are to where they are.

The big question is what will happen to these investments, all this infrastructure, if those foreign markets shrink.

Chapter 7: Let’s pause, and take a walk in the Grasslands.

Well we didn't have very much time in North Dakota but we did have an amazing hike didn't we? We did, Nicie pulled out her map because wherever we go, Nicie pulls out her map. She's kind of obsessed with finding the good hike. Yup and also any kind of public lands National Park lands we always have our passport with us. So South of Fargo not far are the Cheyenne National Grasslands and they are a beautiful undulating piece of terrain with gorgeous oak and birch groves just spectacular. And what's so unusual is the undulation part because North Dakota is so flat. Other than that so flat. Yeah and there's this rolling and you just kind of walk up and down these little hills it's it but it's soft it's it's really beautiful. And there was snow. Yes. We went hiking in the snow in fact we flew into Fargo and the guy sitting next to me was like well I guess I'm going to use my advanced car starter warmer upper for the first time this year. So fortunately we had brought our boots and hats and gloves and scarves and all that. And it was just stunning with the wind in the, you know golden birch trees and oak trees. And the oak leaves are kind of rattling in that little wind really beautiful. Look on Instagram put some some pictures up and we met some friends. How many? Like a thousand. We're gonna take a short break and leave politics and trade wars and introduce you to our new friends. So we met Dane Lacey Nel, Nel's 1000 sheep, and her dogs her dogs were so beautiful right. Yes. And two of them were this Turkish breed the Akbash that are famous I guess putting dogs big white dogs gorgeous friendly but definitely you wouldn't want to be a coyote interfering with that flock. Yeah right. No they knew that we weren't going to hurt their sheep and they live with the sheep all the time. These 1000 sheep which are like moving like a river in front of us. There's so many of them and the dogs are just kind of hanging with them. Yup and a group of horseback riders came through, it was a bunch of women on an outing and they were happily trail riding through the snow and they were just as amazed as we were by those sheep. I have never seen so many sheep. So Nel's family owns 120 acres of this beautiful land. And that's where they keep the sheep and they also have down the road a horse camp and RV park so you can come with your trailered horse and hang out with your horse there and ride and stay for a week or so. Honestly life goals. The campground right down here is my parents'. And so we started with that and we used to have a boarding facility just north of here. And then when we moved down here we were given the opportunity to buy the place where we are right now. And so us kids started with 14 sheep and then Mom saw Dad look on Craigslist honey what are you doing? I need some sheep. He got a thousand of them. Anyway, here we are. Now I think of lambs being born in the spring pardon me not not really a livestock expert. Typically they are with so many and it being a family-ran thing we don't really hire anybody. We do have our shepherds who are from Peru and they are absolutely amazing. And so we typically lambed two to 400 like end of November to beginning of December and then end of January to beginning of February and the end of March to April and then some in June. And so actually this next coming spring we plan on lambing them all out just in June. You might remember our Texas 21 episode Episode 40 and you might remember that we got lost and trespassed onto the incredibly beautiful ranch of a very nice rancher near the LBJ ranch and we were hoping to connect with them later for an interview and it never worked out. Well folks finally we have provided for you a rancher interview albeit short and perhaps with a fair amount of bleating along with your words. Yeah I think you're more sheep bleats than there are words. But but thank you, Nel, it was really nice of you to spend time with us. Yeah thanks for the warm welcome.

Chapter 8: We’re pro-life meaning we’re pro-women.

Rick Wilson is a Republican political strategist and media consultant. We interviewed him in Episode 70 of The MidPod, and he says the Democratic party needs to start listening to America about abortion and guns. We’re taking him seriously. So, in Fargo we approached a shivering, but committed group of protestors standing outside the abortion clinic there, the only the one in the state, and asked to talk.

Protesters: We're from the Battle Lake area. We participate in the 40 Days for Life here every year. It’s a peaceful prayer vigil. We pray to God for the powerful intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary, to answer our prayers and we pray for all the women. We’re pro-life, meaning we’re pro-women, and we want the best for them.

We asked what they would do if they were able to dissuade a woman from entering the clinic for an abortion.

Protesters: We would take them right to First Choice Clinic and they have parent classes, they can earn points towards clothing. They can get their ultrasounds. Prenatal care? Prenatal care, everything. How do they earn points? They earn points by taking parent classes, from how to take care of your infant, all the way through. There’s no charge, if they attend the classes, they earn points to buy clothing.

The clinic was closed that day, so Heather asked, was this a political protest?

Protesters: This is I wouldn't call it a political statement. I don't think it has anything to do with politics. You know as Catholics Catholics the Catholic Church doesn't do politics and we don't do politics here. This is all about life. And like I said before... A moral statement maybe? I mean absolutely it's a moral statement, yes, but that's not a political statement. I mean there is you know the idea of morality is not something invented by human beings. I mean you know, that that came from God himself, so. Can ask, is there anything that stirs you emotionally as much as this issue? That's not a confrontational question, I'm really wondering are there other things that would make you come out on a cold day? This is an emotional issue for me. I mean there obviously is emotion involved but it's an intellectual and reason-based issue. Is there anything else that you feel as strongly about that you would come out on a cold day? Marriage and the family. Oh definitely. Anything marriage and the family related, we're here talking about abortion but it starts with the family. It's a family unit. We hate to see any baby born out of wedlock. We'd love to see family unity across the country. I mean that's where it starts. Marriages need to be strengthened in this country, as an institution it's weakening right and left. This is a very dangerous trend because again as Brett as he said you know it has an impact. And how about for you is this is there are there other issues that you care as much about us as this one? Probably not no because I mean we're talking life and death here. It's also an attitude of if it's OK to kill this unborn child, who else is going to be OK to kill? So where are you guys on contraception? So as Catholics it's a no. And I'm going to say from a personal experience I made the mistake of not listening to it and I don't have children.

What I would say really moved me was that not all the time in that conversation but a couple of times it felt like a conversation between people. They were listening to our questions and they were responding and they weren't sometimes they were but they weren't responding with some sort of rhetoric. Right. They were responding as human beings who had experiences.

Exactly out of personal experience and out of deeply-held faith yes I felt very respected in the way that they considered our questions and that meant a lot to me. And they had stories behind their answers that were personal stories. Exactly.

Chapter 9: Heitkamp Hotdish and a Hotdish Hack.

Nicie and I met Thomasine Heitkamp, Heidi Heitkamp’s older sister, at the Hotdish night for Heidi in Grand Forks. There were about 70 people there and 2 long tables loaded with about 25 hot dishes. Thomasine is a professor of nursing at North Dakota State University. We didn’t have a chance to talk that night because it was so packed, but I called her afterward when I got home, to talk about the event and hotdishes.

Thomasine Heitkamp: This event, in particular, was an event in support of my sister's candidacy for the United States Senate, Heidi Heitkamp, and it was a way to get the base of supporters together to enjoy some good food and to enjoy the camaraderie of being where we could all talk a little bit about politics and the campaign, but also socialize.

I asked Thomasine, so what is the thing about North Dakota Hotdish?

Heitkamp: The hot dish culture is part of a warm comfort food in the winter, some of our communities where you don't have an opportunity to stop at the supermarket on the way home, you can just look in your refrigerator and pull out something good, some vegetables and some starch and pull down a can of Cream of Mushroom soup and some protein and mix it all together and put it in the oven and you have a warm dinner that's multipurpose.

With zero irony, Heitkamp told me their family’s favorite hotdish when they were growing up is also the one served at funerals in North Dakota.

Heitkamp: And you get your hamburger and you draw it out and it was generally pretty good because a farmer would purchase it from a farmer and you'd fry up a hamburger and you might fry a few onions and you'd boil up some pasta and mix the pasta with the hamburger and put in tomato soup. And that is what we often ate out and what was called Funeral hot dish. They would make this this recipe at funerals.

At the end of our Hotdish night in Grand Forks, the crowd voted on their favorite hotdish of the night. Hands down - I voted for it, too - Thomasine Heitkamp was the winner. Yup she got my vote right? Chicken Pot Pie hot dish with cheesy biscuits on top. We'll let Thomasine describe it.

Heitkamp: I was determined to win the contest and to make something into a casserole that I love. And most North Dakotans enjoy which is a chicken pot pie. So I found a recipe where I could convert the chicken pot pie into a casserole or a hot dish and put some cheesy biscuits on top and then bake it, bake it separate, with just the ingredients with the vegetables and the roux and the chicken and then bake these biscuits on top at the end.

Heitkamp says there’s nothing like the smell of a good hotdish baking during the cold winter months, and they make great leftovers the next day. We will have her recipe on our Eat blog, along with a deeper dive into hot dish culture. Tater Tots, by the way, are a thing. A major thing I endorse. You know they're my new thing, tater tots. I'm learning all about them. I spoke to one young man, a Heitkamp staffer, at the hotdish event. Did you meet him Nicie? Yeah I did, he was great. He was so great and he was he was in his element because this was a political event. But he was not comfortable with the hot dish thing but he made a hot dish. And he told me he was pretty intimidated but he decided to go with his favorite thing which is shakshuka. He prepared shakshuka, put it in a baking dish, and covered it with tater tots. I had some, and I was like peppers and tater tots, this is working for me. You know it was all gone by the time I got there. So he gave me the basic recipe. I'm going to experiment and put it together. So shakshuka, tater tots on top, goes in the oven until golden brown. We'll have that recipe too.

Heidi’s Hotdish night in Grand Forks was a room packed shoulder-to-shoulder with babies, families, grandparents and probably great grandparents, and then all those warm, crumbly, cheesy hotdishes. Here was Heidi’s rallying cry:

Heidi Heitkamp: So it's been my observation that Republicans will always invest in institutions. Right. They’ll invest in corporate America. They’ll invest in all of these things and Democrats, Democrats believe that when we invest in people, by providing health care, by providing education, by providing economic opportunity to start small businesses, when we invest in people, this country thrives because nobody can stop that American spirit if given an equal chance.

We left the hotdish night and drove back to Fargo. It was still early, so Nicie and I went to a local brewery to watch some of the Red Sox game. Go Red Sox! The World Series will be over by the time you hear this but anyway we love our Red Sox. Yeah go Sox! There, playing across all of the television screens around the bar were harsh, ugly images narrated by some ghoulish deep voiced guy attacking Heidi Heitkamp for sanctuary cities. She created them. They're all her fault. Repeat. All around the bar pulsed hate for Heidi Heitkamp and sanctuary cities. When I woke up the next morning I opened my browser. I needed to look at something on YouTube and there right away was yet another vicious throated somebody ordering me to be terrified of Heidi Heitkamp because of sanctuary cities. From our seat, national politics, the worst of it, has indeed roosted in North Dakota.

You know us we love to be optimistic and we still are but we are learning some hard lessons about hyper-partisanship, about the lengths both parties but mostly Republicans will go to gerrymander their districts, to make voting harder for people who don't vote their way, and literally dominating the airwaves with these baseless attacks on decent people who just want to serve in public office. And we heard earlier from other candidates that we've interviewed earlier in The MidPod that this is basically what Republicans have right now is just attack on character, attack on immigration, fearmonger, lie. And it's really really depressing to watch. And it makes it all the more important for us all to engage in historic levels of active citizenship between now and Election Day. We're all going to be out there this weekend door knocking and we just hope you will be too. And we're going to have What To Watch For episode for you on Tuesday and then we're gonna see you on the other side. Yeah. See you on the other side.

We want to thank everyone in North Dakota who welcomed us for this episode, particularly the Heitkamp family who seem to be everywhere. The music in this show is from Andy Fleming and the Sweet Nothings. We also want to send a special thank you to Michael Lasell, who has done an amazing job with technology in The MidPod, even from very far-flung places like Mexico and Maine. Our theme music is by Cerci Miller and performed by the Circi Miller Quartet. The MidPod is a production of Bird on the Wing Media, the executive producer is Helen Barrington, and the mix engineer is James Donahue. The program is produced at Whiskey Lane Productions in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. Thanks for listening and we will see you very soon.

Eunice Panetta