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State superintendent challenger to campaign on change over stability

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State superintendent challenger to campaign on change over stability

Jun 12, 2024 | 5:54 pm ET
By Mary Steurer
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State superintendent challenger to campaign on change over stability
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Jason Heitkamp, a former state senator running for superintendent of public instruction, stands in Memorial Hall at the North Dakota Capitol on May 23, 2024. (Mary Steurer/North Dakota Monitor)

Former state senator Jason Heitkamp said he’ll be working to win over change-averse voters as he prepares to face off against incumbent Kirsten Baesler for superintendent of public instruction in November.

“With incumbency, people feel there’s stability there,” he said.

Baesler finished with a significant lead over challengers in the four-way primary Tuesday, earning 55% of the vote in unofficial results with all precincts reporting.

Heitkamp earned 22% of the vote, narrowly beating NDGOP-endorsed Jim Bartlett of Bottineau, who received 20%.

Former higher ed administrator Darko Draganic took home 3% of votes.

Since superintendent is a nonpartisan position, the top two vote-earners in the primary — in this case, Baesler and Heitkamp — proceed to the general election.

Heitkamp said he’s “very happy” with the election results, even if he only beat Bartlett by a couple of percentage points. After all, the general election is a separate contest, he said.

“The election started again this morning,” Heitkamp said Wednesday. 

The Wyndmere resident is campaigning heavily on property tax reform. If elected, one of his major goals would be to make public schools entirely funded by state money, as opposed to local revenue. Another priority is increasing pay for teachers, he said.

Heitkamp said he worries some voters seem to have formed an image of him as someone who wants to overhaul North Dakota’s education system.

He said while he wants to make significant structural changes, he wants voters to know he’s “not going to destroy what’s there already.”

Heitkamp served as a Republican state senator in 2021-22. He didn’t seek letters of endorsement from either party in the superintendent race.

Baesler has mostly campaigned on her track record as superintendent. A resident of Mandan, she counts the creation of a teacher apprenticeship program, cutting the size of the Department of Public Instruction, and establishing an online school funding dashboard among her main accomplishments while in office.

Baesler said in a Tuesday evening statement she is “committed to working hard” for her supporters to secure a victory in November.

“Our students, families and teachers deserve nothing less,” she said.