The following article was submitted by Rep. Rick Becker.
The June 2020 primary election was a doozy for Republicans. Many saw it as an example of extreme Republican intra-party fighting. I think it is much different than that. We Republican state legislators have different ideas on policies and programs. We have a “broad tent” of sorts, and run the gamut in political philosophy from strictly adhering to the Republican platform, to using it as a guideline. Nearly all of us have one thing in common, and that is a desire to serve the state and make it the best place possible.
In 2013, my first legislative session, I was in a bit of shock at the rate of increased spending by a legislature wholly controlled by Republicans. I also found that there was no real “community” for legislators who shared my concerns, and wanted to focus on more strictly adhering to the Republican platform – which included limited spending. There didn’t seem to be a way to challenge ideas, bills, policies, and spending in an informal setting. Frankly, I felt a little confused and alone, so I formed a group in which legislators could associate and discuss policies within the framework of the party platform. ALL legislators were invited. The name given to the loosely-affiliated group of legislators is the Bastiat Caucus. It could have been any name, but I figured Frederic Bastiat was good, because he was an early advocate of limited spending, limited taxation, avoidance of corporate welfare, awareness of unanticipated consequences of government policies, and so much more. He would have fit in well with our very own North Dakota GOP Platform.
Over the years, there has been occasional squabbling between the Bastiats and the non-Bastiats (I want to say moderates, but that’s not accurate, as some conservative legislators simply prefer not to caucus with the group). Much like with siblings, that squabbling is entirely natural. It’s even healthy, for how can we get to the best outcomes if everyone simply agrees without challenge or discourse? Yes, a very few in the legislature deride and ridicule us because they perceive us as a challenge to their status quo comfort zone, but most of the friction that one hears about is the “healthy” variety, completely normal amongst people of varied opinions.
Enter Governor Burgum, and witness that the referenced “family squabbling” isn’t what took place in the June primary. In 2016 Governor Burgum did not receive the Republican party endorsement, nevertheless he ran in the primary election as was his right to do. What I didn’t realize then, was that his decision to break from party protocol was but a glimpse into his style of North Dakota politics. He claimed he wanted to break up the “good ol’ boy’s club” in Bismarck, (which sounds good if one believes that a group of elected and non-elected bureaucrats aren’t doing right by the citizens of the state), but it turns out Governor Burgum wasn’t looking to do that. He was simply intending to take complete control. The “good ol’boys” he was referring to were anyone who doesn’t conform to what he wants.
Governor Burgum thinks of himself as CEO of North Dakota. The upside to that is he might be more likely to look for efficiencies of government, and to think “outside the box”. The downside, and what became clear in this election, is that he has no regard for the importance of the separation of powers, or his limited role as the executive. He has no respect for the process by which local people ought to be able to choose their representatives without intense manipulation by the executive. When the Governor throws approximately $2,000,000.00 at various legislative races (as well as the treasurer’s race), despite these races commonly spending no more than a mere $10,000-$20,000, it is apparent he has the willingness and ability to essentially “buy” many elected seats. Moreover, he has the ability to hold his PAC and money over the heads of other legislators during the upcoming session in an attempt to coerce them into doing what he wants, or they will be next to go. The root of the problem is that this “CEO” is confusing himself with being a “king”.
Sadly, through his PAC, Burgum has dragged us through the mud with severe negativity and a daily bombardment of ugly mailers. He relies on repetition of distortions and “mistruths” to win the day. He capitalizes upon and exploits the low-information voter, and creates confusion with his intentional misrepresentations to convert others. From day one, he has shown a pattern of a willingness to say what is needed to win – at any cost. He has shown that he cares nothing for the political process in general, and much less for his own party. He is a Republican by convenience only. North Dakota deserved better.
Rick Becker was first elected to serve District 7 in the North Dakota State House of Representatives in 2012. He is a plastic surgeon, business owner, and resides in Bismarck.