Senator stresses voting, health and veterans in visit to Bowman

Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) is hoping that a couple of weeks is enough time to rally voters again and be re-elected to the United States Senate in November.

But it won’t be easy.

By Brad Mosher

The Herald

“Last time, I was able to campaign full time. This time, because of being in-session and that was done on purpose, I haven’t been able to get out and about,” she said Wednesday (Oct. 17) when she visited the Southwest Health Services facility in Bowman.

“I think that the more I get a chance to visit with people, and talk about what we have done and what we want to change, I think people are really receptive. We have been doing a lot of senior events and a lot of veterans events,” she said. “They have been particularly false on my record with veterans, I want to get out there personally and meet with as many veterans as we can. We are going to be doing a lot of outreach to students and a lot of outreach to farmers and ranchers. That is a big part of our hopes for victory.

“More importantly, with a campaign like this that has been so expensive and so much on television, people just don’t know what to believe. If we are given a chance to just explain where we are right now and not being distorted,” she said.

Voting roadblocks

One of the obstacles the senator is facing is the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision allowing the state legislature to require street addresses in order for North Dakotans to vote, she said.

Not only will the new rules cause problems for voters on the reservations, but also those who are just living in rural counties, she said.

“I have been trying to get the message out that there may be rural voters that have a P.O. Box on their state-issued ID and have never gotten their mail where their address is. This is a stumbling block on voting rights that the legislature shouldn’t have put there, but now it is really important that we work together so that every person that wants to vote, can vote if they are a North Dakota resident,” she said.

That means that some rural residents may find voting to be a problem in November, the senator added.

With the election coming fast, there still is some ways they can make the vote count, the senator said. “I think they can vote a provisional ballot have it set off to the side and then they can get GPS co-ordinates for where they live. The problem is that it puts the burden on the voter to back and fix that ballot. That is the way I understand it. The provisional ballots won’t be counted unless the voter in a certain period of time comes back and presents some kind of evidence that they have a residence in North Dakota,” she said.

Senator Heidi Heitkamp focused in local issues during recent stop in Bowman.

“Even if they are not in places that supported us, we will be taking a look at those provisional ballots and trying to do every thing we can to make sure the votes get counted,” she added.

She questioned the reason for such a law in a predominantly rural state like North Dakota. “People (in small towns) know people, especially in towns the size of Bowman. To put roadblocks up, and some of the discrimination goes to the elderly who don’t have any state-issued ID, which is completely unfair.

“There is no need for ID (in residential care facilities). They are probably not going to need a passport. Many of them are not going to be driving.

“That ID is not only difficult to get, but it is also expensive.

“I am mortified that a state like North Dakota, that respects voting and respects participation, has made it harder for its citizens to vote,” the senator said. “I think they’ll look at pockets of people, like students or native Americans and say ‘We don’t like how they vote, so we are going to so we are going to make it tougher for them.’”

There is an even bigger impact of the new voting laws, the senator said. “About 20 percent of the native American people have put on a uniform. They did that before they could vote.

“They served in World War I before they could vote. I gave an example recently at Spirit Lake, where I talked about a guy named Andy Shaw. I got him his Purple Heart. If you aren’t angry for me, be angry for Andy Shaw, that they have made it tougher to vote.

“One thing I think people don’t understand about the native American community is how incredibly patriotic they are,” she added.

The new voting law will have an impact beyond the borders of the reservations, the senator predicted. “There are people in Dunn County with just P.O. Boxes. We are trying to track down any areas of the state.

“I care if people vote. We all should care if people vote. I have sent campaign staff to those (rural) counties and county auditors to find out what the restrictions would be. We are not just looking at native American communities. We are looking at rural communities where everybody gets a cluster box.

“If you mailed to me in Mantador (her hometown near State Highway 29), you didn’t mail Matthew Street. You mailed to a P.O. Box. That was true for my whole life growing up. That (law) means that my Mom and Dad who had a P.O. Box on their license couldn’t have voted,” the graduate of the University of North Dakota explained. “Everybody in town knows my Mom and Dad when they go down to the Fire Hall to vote.

“This is against our culture. We don’t have a problem (with voter fraud).”

Healthcare strong in state

According to the senator, the state of North Dakota is lucky because it has strong leadership when it comes to health.

“You (the state) have great leadership in rural healthcare. I have been all over the state of North Dakota and have a unique role nationally in rural health. Because it reflects my concern in North Dakota. I have been working with CMS, which is the Center for Medicare and Medicaid with Seema Vermah, the republican appointee to open up dialogue with the great leaders we have here in North Dakota,” she said.

However, one of the biggest challenges in the state’s healthcare system is the workforce, the senator explained.

“CNAs are hard to come by in rural communities now,” she said, noting the pay for Certified Nursing Assistants can be low (as low as about $9 an hour and as high as $17 an hour). “As people have other employment options, it is hard for these health care providers to compete with higher wages because they are not getting their re-reimbursement increased.

“We need a transition plan. The kind of health care many rural communities where hospitals is where healthcare is based – that may not be the healthcare of the future.

“We need  to be innovative,” the senator added.

That is something she focused on again when she met with about 30 people in the building’s conference room.

“So many organizations in North Dakota are so innovative. Delivery of rural health care in pockets of North Dakota is the best in the country. It happened because we have got great leadership in healthcare. We went out and hired good people and we have great communities. Healthcare does not get available in communities without community involvement.

“I think we are positioned as well as anyone to be a national leader in the delivery of rural healthcare,” she said.

Heitkamp said that she hopes that working with Verma on rural healthcare will spark better funding and another round of innovation throughout the state.

Care for Veterans a must

“The cost of any war is not fully realized until we lose our last veteran of that war,” she said. “We have made a solemn vow to our veterans. We are committed to our veterans. We need to everything we can to do everything we can to give them the flexibility they want but also maintain that healthcare system,” she said.

“The people here (Bowman) actually go down to Rapid City (in South Dakota). That is hard because they are actually in the Fargo district. Going down to Rapid City is a lot closer here.

“We need to provide the flexibility like with Veterans Choice, which actually passed in the previous administration.” she said.

The Fargo District of the Department of Veterans Affairs was the innovator in fixing the problems with Veterans Choice, she added.

“A lot of their innovations have been adopted by the Veterans Choice system. But robbing Peter to pay Paul, that doesn’t honor our commitment the veterans,” she added.

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