Dickinson, North Dakota
Chairman North Dakota State Republican Party
Interviewed by Clark H. Caras, Candidates.vote
One might think being chairman of the state Republican party holding a “super majority”, where President Donald Trump holds the highest approval rating in the nation, one of the top tourist destinations is called “Badlands”, but the state name of “North Dakota” means “friend” in the Dakota Sioux language might be a cakewalk; but for the holder of the title “chairman” as well as state Senator – Kelly M. Armstrong works to make sure having the majority doesn’t see the “cake” go stale.
Caras – “So I’m not really sure what I should call you? Senator Armstrong or Chairman Armstrong?”
Chairman Armstrong – With a bit of surprised chuckle, says, “How about you just call me Kelly.” Is a friendly statement encompassing the friendly nature of this born and raised upper Midwesterner who was elected in 2012 to the North Dakota State Senate District 36, which encompasses his hometown of Dickinson. And who in 2015 was unanimously elected chairman of the state’s Republican Party.
Caras – “Thank you for the offer, but your someone who has chosen to not be a “bystander” in things so you’ve earned the titles. Why don’t I refer to you as “Chairman”, it being a statewide office? With that; Chairman Armstrong, which is the harder job?”
Chairman Armstrong – The suppressed chuckle of before becomes a bit more evident… “Chairman is the one that I’d say is way harder. We have a super majority here in North Dakota – with just one Democrat in Federal office – and the way we run the party here is with volunteers.
And in this state we have a very “big tent” here and volunteers tend to be very passionate. So we have many different philosophies and ideas who deserve to have a place in that Tent and it’s my job as chairman to make sure they do. We’re a big state – lots of big ideas to be heard.”
Caras – “You’ve been representing your hometown and area of North Dakota since being elected on 2012, were just re-elected to serve in that job until 2020. So, what moved you to step forward and add to that the duties of State Party Chairman?”
Chairman Armstrong – “Like I said, I want to make sure everyone’s ideas have a chance of being heard. The execution of that can be difficult and I felt I had some ideas to get that done, plus I wanted to bring so feeling to the party. I came into the position knowing we had a difficult road to travel and a different road to travel than the party had been going. My platform coming in was a simple blueprint. Raise money. Don’t say something stupid. Be fair.”
Caras – “North Dakota is huge and it’s communities spread from border to border. That can’t make being a senator or chairman easy?”
Chairman Armstrong – “I am 100 miles to Bismarck and in the past eleven months I’ve racked 32,000 miles up on the car. Holding a majority of the elected positions in the state can make fundraising a bit difficult because people would rather give to the candidate than the party. I knew immediately we were going to have to get creative in the fundraising. That majority can sometimes lead to the danger of things, ideas and fundraising, getting stale.”
Caras – “As a party chairman what other duties have you come to find out you are responsible?”
Chairman Armstrong – “I knew coming into it that the volunteers are meant to become the grassroots and move turnout to support the candidates. The party itself is the operations and the chairman’s job – is to get people elected.”
Caras – “The Democrat holding that one federal office just announced her re-election bid. As chairman of the Republican Party in the state what do you have to say about Sen. Mary ‘Heidi’ Heitkamp and that re-election kickoff?”
Chairman Armstrong – “She’s a good politician and she deserves some compliments; but now she’s got a voting record. We’ve got state Senator Tom Campbell who is running against her and he really hit the ground running.
And of course there’s talk about Congressman Kevin Cramer running and if he gets into it things will change.”
Caras – “Things will change? What do you mean by that forecast?”
Chairman Armstrong – “We have Tom in the race and she only just announced she’s running again. Congressman Cramer and a couple of the others talking about it and things are going to really get going.”
Caras – “Isn’t that going to make your job as chairman just a little complicated?”
Chairman Armstrong – “Right now things are calm and orderly, but I’m a former trial lawyer and I’m used to the chaos theory. In fact, I welcome it. As a party we need to drive turnout and we can win this race. We have a tradition in North Dakota of coming around to the candidate. Once they’ve been chosen we will support them and move forward.”
Caras – “You mentioned being a trial attorney. I understand you are a partner in Reichart Armstrong Law Firm as well as your wife Kjersti being an attorney?”
Chairman Armstrong – “I am. I partnered up with my best friend Alexander Reichart. I called and told him we were opening an office in Dickinson and with the one in Grand Forks we employ seven attorneys. And yes, Kjersti is an attorney in oil and gas.”
Caras – “Is it true you lived in Norway for a couple of years and ultimately were married there?”
Chairman Armstrong – “Kjersti and I met while we were both attending the University of North Dakota. The school here has a great exchange program with the University of Oslo School of Law. She holds the distinction of being a practicing lawyer in both Norwegian and American law.”
Caras – “With her being Norwegian what does she think about all of this political in your life?”
Chairman Armstrong – “Norway is a very conservative country, so trust me when I say we are both conservative but our views don’t always meet. I can say this though, if this is something you decide to get involved just make sure your family is tuned in to all of this. Make sure your family is all in.”
Caras – “Earlier you mentioned the chaos factor in politics. What’s some of that you see?”
Chairman Armstrong – “Twitter. I like to call it the social media equivalent to yesterday’s bumper sticker. It puts everything in real time, which isn’t such a bad thing.”
Caras – “I read in the media you had a couple of interesting replies when you were asked about Senator Heitkamp announced.”
Chairman Armstrong – “She’d just had dinner with the President the night before she announced. All I said when they asked what I thought; was, I said, ‘Whatever the opposite of surprised is. That’s what I am.’”