On Thursday evening, Senator Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and her challenger, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), faced off in their first debate prior to the midterm elections.
During the debate, one of the moderators asked the following question: “Which ad on your opponent’s behalf do you feel is the most disingenuous, and why?”
Rep. Cramer responded:
This wasn’t on her behalf, this was her ad, where she states with her disclaimer that as a state official, as a state employee, I raised my own salary. That is blatantly false. It is known to be false. A former attorney general who had pay raises, and a tax commissioner who had pay raises when she was a public official knows it’s not true. PolitiFact interviewed Office of Management and Budget personnel…not only did we not give ourselves a raise, nor can we give ourselves a raise, we didn’t even request a raise. So, it’s a blatant lie, and it should be taken down right now if we’re gonna maintain the integrity of public office.
Here’s Heitkamp’s ad, which is still up on her campaign’s official YouTube account:
At the beginning of the commercial, a familiar audio message plays: “I’m Heidi Heitkamp, and I approve this message.” Then, an ominous voiceover states: “Could you give yourself a $23,000 raise? Ask Kevin Cramer. On the Public Service Commission, he raised his pay to over $93,000 a year.”
PolitiFact did indeed rate the claim made in the commercial as “false,” stating in part:
Commissioners’ salaries usually originate from the governor’s office, which works with the Office of Management and Budget to determine how much money is available for public officials, according to Jeff Larshus, director of state financial services at the OMB.
The governor then submits a budget to the Legislative Assembly, which writes the salaries into statute and votes on their approval. So saying Cramer raised his own salary ignores the arbiter of that salary.
PolitiFact goes on to note that the reason Cramer’s salary rose was because multiple public officials were given raises of between 3% and 5% each year from 2006 to 2012. While Cramer’s salary increased by nearly 39% over the course of six years, he wasn’t involved in the decision making regarding those increases.
Later in the debate, Cramer brought up the commercial again:
This question was asked in a different way, but I still wanna get to what you’re thinking, Senator Heitkamp, when you authorized the ad saying that I voted a $23,000 raise for myself – that I gave myself a raise. You know that’s not true. You know that’s impossible. You know that’s against the rules.
You know that if you looked at the Public Service Commission…and asked them, that we didn’t even put in for a raise in our budgets over the many years…that I served on the Public Service Commission. Why would you run an ad like that, which you have to know, as a former attorney general, is blatantly untrue?
I think it’s important that everybody recognize that in your budget is your salary; in the requests [were the] salary. You didn’t go down to the legislature and say, “Wait a minute, when I was elected, this was the salary for the job that I had. Please don’t give me additional money!”
I never did that when I was attorney general. I made sure – in fact, my salary was only raised in the next term. And so I think it’s inappropriate during any term, that you’re elected for – and you have six-year terms on the Public Service Commission, that you get a salary increase. You were elected with that salary; you should maintain that salary, and it should only be increased when that salary is in fact part of the next term.
Cramer laughed at Heitkamp’s reply, stating: “That answer was so goofy, I should almost give you my 30 seconds to say it again. Did you listen to yourself?”
Not only was it not in what we requested, when it goes to the legislature, that is the salary range for every state employee. At the most, it’s the cost of living increase. Yeah, I could give it away, and who knows, I maybe do. I don’t know. I don’t announce those sorts of things – but to somehow suggest that you should run down there [and] say, “No, no, no, no, no! Don’t give this pay raise. I’m so noble that I wouldn’t take it.” You always took your pay raises, senator. With all due respect, you always took them.
Senator Heitkamp served as North Dakota’s tax commissioner from 1986-1992, and its attorney general from 1992-2000. According to the North Dakota Office of Management and Budget website, with the exception of 1990, state employees received salary increases each year from 1989-2000.
The Daily Wire reached out to the Heitkamp campaign to ask why the ad containing the false claim has yet to be removed from YouTube, and if Senator Heitkamp ever refused annual raises while serving as tax commissioner and attorney general for the state of North Dakota. As of publication, we have not received a reply.