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Ellen-Earle Chaffee

The BadAss Grandmas "practiced politics, home-style," according to Ellen-Earle Chaffee.

Eight democracy reform lessons from the BadAss Grandmas

Chaffee is a founder of North Dakotans for Public Integrity, which works to promote integrity and accountability in government, and of the BadAss Grandmas, who encourage boomer women to engage with the democracy movement. She is a university governance consultant.

Voters shocked the entrenched North Dakota political system last November by approving a new article in the state constitution with three strong anti-corruption policies. Article XIV reveals who is spending money to influence voters, prohibits gifts and other undue influence on public officials and establishes an ethics commission.

The Republican Party, with support from an estimated 76 percent of adults, has held a super-majority in the Legislature and all statewide elected offices for years. The powerful state chamber of commerce never thought Measure 1 would pass.

Big business led a fierce, often dishonest opposition campaign. A mainstream faith denomination vigorously opposed the measure. It seemed obvious that the people who elected those officials, and received this apparently credible messaging, would side with the status quo.

The proponents, newly formed North Dakotans for Public Integrity, started with four retired friends discussing over coffee the increasing corruption associated with our state's oil boom. Adding a few key people for expertise and diversity, we met every Tuesday morning for more than a year, wrote the ballot initiative, partnered with four national democracy organizations — and got a world-class education in political activism. We had only skeleton staff because most in-state major donors are with the super-majority and others felt hopeless. The opposing coalition funded its campaign in six weeks with just 19 checks, outspending us by 20 percent.

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Yet we won with 53.6 percent of the vote. What does this say about democracy reform? Here are eight takeaways.

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