Heitkamp, Cramer: No to pot, yes to non-citizens voting ban

MANDAN, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp and her Republican opponent Kevin Cramer said Wednesday they oppose a ballot measure that would legalize marijuana, and they both support a ban on non-citizens voting in the state.

But they disagree on a sweeping government ethics overhaul measure. Heitkamp voted for it; Cramer said he won’t.

Heitkamp, accompanied by her physician husband, Darwin Lange, spoke briefly with reporters Wednesday after casting an early ballot in Mandan. Cramer will vote in Bismarck on Election Day.

The race between the two has been among the most watched nationally because Republicans are counting on a Cramer victory to help them reinforce their Senate majority. Heitkamp, who is seeking her second term, is seen as one of the most vulnerable Senators among red-state Democrats.

Heitkamp, a former North Dakota attorney general, said she supports decriminalizing marijuana but thinks the legalization proposal on the ballot is “overly broad and creates some huge challenges.”

Law enforcement agencies in North Dakota oppose the measure, which would legalize pot for people 21 and older and seal the records of anyone convicted of a marijuana-related crime that would be made legal under the measure.

Cramer said he supported medical marijuana when it was on the ballot and passed two years ago but will vote against its recreational use.

“Personally, I hate the idea of more legal drugs,” he said.

Surprisingly, Heitkamp said she voted for a measure that would amend North Dakota Constitution to explicitly bar non-U.S. citizens from voting.

Opponents said the measure isn’t needed because the state constitution already defines a voter as a U.S. citizen. But backers say the wording is ambiguous and another section is proposed for clarity.

The measure’s sponsor, Gary Emineth, a former North Dakota GOP chairman and state Senate candidate in Bismarck, said the measure’s intent was partially to “neutralize” the pot and ethics ballot questions that he believes are an attempt “to drive the liberal vote.”

Heitkamp ended her media session before explaining that vote. An email and telephone call to her office were not immediately returned Wednesday.

Cramer said he knows it’s already illegal for noncitizens to vote in North Dakota but the measure will “codify” the intent in the constitution and “make a statement and I’m OK with that.”

Heitkamp and Cramer will split votes on a so-called “anti-corruption” measure that would ban foreign money from elections, restrict lobbying and create an independent ethics commission, among other provisions.

State Democrats have fought unsuccessfully for years for a sweeping government ethics overhaul. Cramer agrees with the Republican-led Legislature which says it’s not needed because lawmakers already follow high standards of conduct.

“It’s time we have an ethics priority in North Dakota,” Heitkamp told reporters.

The Greater North Dakota Chamber and the ACLU are among the groups opposing the measure that they say is poorly written and restricts political speech and advocacy.

Heitkamp said she understands opponents’ concerns but she “doesn’t share those concerns.”

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