We’re continuing our series on “Change Makers” in our communities this week, by introducing you to a group of grandmas who started a grassroots movement to fight for democracy in North Dakota politics.

Dina Butcher was instrumental in launching the group.

“My grandson had a brochure in his car because he was going to do an interview with me, and his buddy, his football buddy, said is that your grandma on the brochure? And, he said yeah. And, he said she’s badass,” said Butcher.

And, that’s how the non-partisan grassroots movement got their name.

“The BadAss grandmas had a mission to get especially older women who are concerned about the legacy of their grandchildren involved in government,” said Ellen Chaffee.

The grandmas were unhappy with how wealthy special interests were influencing state politics.
So, they got together and wrote an amendment to the North Dakota Constitution.

“So, after writing the law and getting the signatures, then we needed to tell the public before the election in November of 2018. We needed to explain what this was all about and why we thought they should vote for it,” explained Chaffee.

The amendment established a state Ethics Commission, guidelines for how lobbysists can interact with legislators, prohibits lobbysists from gifting legislators, and revealing how dark money is used to influence elections.

They campaigned all around the state and the amendment got written into law as Article 14 of the North Dakota Constitution.

“The voters agreed that the voters, the citizens, needed more information. They needed accountability by State government. They needed more transparency. Where are the funds coming from, where are they being spent, who’s influencing decisions that are being made,” said Kathy Tweeten.

The grandmas are now campaigning for the “North Dakota Voters First” initiative which is making voting more transparent and easier for out of state military members.

The initiative is also working to prevent gerrymandering by having the North Dakota Ethics Commission draw voting districts in a transparent, public process.

“There’s so many ways that we’re noticing now that the public is resltess, is unhappy with one thing or another, and wants all kinds of changes. And, the pandemic has only of course intensified that feeling. So, we’re helping people who haven’t been thinking about government for a long time realize what’s been happening and how government has changed and how changing government now could really make life better for the next generations,” explained Chaffee.

Each of the grandmas who formed movement previously held lengthy careers in both the public and private sector. Dina was the Deputy Commissioner for the N.D. Department of Agriculture as well as serving in two former governor’s administrations. Ellen served as the president of both Valley City State University and Mayville State University at the same time. Kathy was the Director of the Center for Community Vitality for NDSU Extension services. Needless to say, these founding members are hyper qualified and action-oriented women.

You can learn more about the group and how you can get involved by going to the BadAss Grandmas official website. They encourage non-grandmas to get involved too.