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North Dakota isn't feeling the slump

The state has added 20,000 jobs in the last year and the unemployment rate is 3.5%, the lowest in the nation. But that doesn't mean people here are any happier with Washington.

October 01, 2011|By Alana Semuels, Los Angeles Times

Local incumbents have also suffered. In 2010, voters ousted the state's sole U.S. representative, a Democrat, in favor of a Republican. They replaced retiring U.S. Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, also a Democrat, with another Republican, the first time in a quarter-century the GOP seized both seats. The third member of the congressional delegation, Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad, has said he will not run for reelection in 2012.

The people who inhabit the endless rows of white trailers in the boomtowns hail from all sides of the political spectrum, but are now united in frustration.

"I would vote them all out. Things are wonderful here, but you have to look at the rest of the world," said Alisha Fuston, who moved to Williston from Gainesville, Ga., with her husband, Adam, and their two children when he got a well-paying job as a pipe yard foreman. Back in Georgia, her husband worked in a chicken plant and barely made enough money to pay the bills.

Presidential candidates are canvassing Samuel Hicks' home state of Iowa in advance of the caucuses, but the 31-year-old Hicks says he has other things to think about. He recently arrived in Williston to find all of the hotels booked and spent his first night camping by train tracks until police hustled him along. He then walked four miles to Wal-Mart, bought a tent, and set it up by a creek behind the place where he found a job on his second day in town. He's had to weather gale-force winds and heavy rain, and has subsisted on beef jerky, Pop-Tarts and peanut butter.

Things are looking up now, and Hicks' wife and three children are coming to join him soon, but that doesn't mean he's rushing home to vote.

"I probably wouldn't vote for anyone," said Hicks, who expects to earn $14,000 a year more cleaning oil drilling pipes in North Dakota than he did as a custodian in Iowa. "Our country is stagnant as far as the government goes."

The straits of migrants from around the country so inspired Steve Monroe that he decided to write a ballad about his journey. Monroe, whose California concrete company went under after 23 years in business, spent a recent evening camped out in his RV in the parking lot of the Williston Wal-Mart, hoping not to be kicked out, as trucks, SUVs and beat-up cars hustled around on a windy night.

"The American dream still flourishes here on Highway 85," he wrote. "Blue-collar pride may falter but it cannot be denied.... In a North Dakota badland summer trying to keep the dream alive … in a North Dakota badland summer trying to survive."

PHOTOS: Land of plenty in North Dakota

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