Some Thoughts About “Toxic” Politics & North Dakota Nice

District 40 Republican Chair Jay Lundeen and Senate Majority Leader have a lively exchange outside the Senate chambers. (Photo via screenshot.)

In recent weeks, North Dakotans are being exposed to media coverage about the “toxic” state of politics in North Dakota. Much of this stems from the retirements of two state senators— Erin Oban (D-District 35) and Nicole Poolman (R-District 7). Both said their exits from the legislature is the result of “extreme rhetoric” and “toxic times”.

Some folks who despise the growing conservative movement in our state are now using a somewhat heated exchange between District 40 Republican Chair Jay Lundeen and North Dakota Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R-District 37) as supposed evidence of this toxicity. What’s fascinating is how the exchange is being characterized— or maybe I should say mischaracterized.

For example, one blogger for Forum Communications used the following statements to describe it:

  • “It shows Minot businessman Jay Lundeen accosting Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner in the hallway outside the state Senate chamber in Bismarck.”
  • “Lundeen, who appears to be doing an impression of Macho Man Randy Savage, delivers a rant into the face of the majority leader that was as rude and uncouth as it was incoherent.”
  • “As if shouting in the face of a man who has served the state of North Dakota in elected office for nearly 30 years were something to be proud of.”

This is just a taste of how the narrative was framed. Yet, there’s a problem with it— it isn’t entirely accurate.

For starters, there’s literally no mention of the context that led to the exchange. While it’s acknowledged that it took place outside the State Senate chamber on the day of the “We the People Rally” in Bismarck last month, there’s no mention of Senator Wardner’s comments on The Chris Berg Show that same day. Comments in which he referred to attendees of the rally as the “far right” who wanted to “get a piece of our hide” (listen at 41:45 mark). It was those comments that prompted Lundeen — an organizer of the event — to confront Wardner.

For the honest observer who has watched the video — and as illustrated by the aforementioned blogger’s comments — there’s some serious creative liberties taken with how the exchange actually played out. Not only were there no Macho Man Randy Savage moments — though that is an amusing visual — but it was Senator Wardner who escalated the exchange, not Jay Lundeen.

I encourage you to watch it for yourself and see. It was Wardner who stepped towards Lundeen and put his finger to Lundeen’s chest. It was Wardner who first raised his voice. It was Wardner who used an expletive. Yet, there’s no mention of any of this. Instead, the narrative is to demonize Lundeen— and the growing limited government movement at large.

Now, let me be clear. Do I think Jay Lundeen handled the situation beautifully? No, I don’t. There most certainly could have been an effort to temper the situation the moment Senator Wardner stepped in with his finger and raised his voice. Having said that, I credit Lundeen with ultimately stepping away in the end.

What seems to be lacking in the conversation about “toxic” politics in North Dakota is how we even got to where we are. For those with TDS (Trump Derangement Syndrome), it’s easiest to just blame the former president. In this “Trumpy” state we call North Dakota, it’s gotta be the answer, right? Sorry, but I’m not convinced.

Don’t get me wrong. Do I believe many people are drawn to Trump because of how abrasive he is to his political enemies. I do. Yet, we’ve got to go deeper than that. What I believe we’re seeing in North Dakota — and other places across the country — is a segment of the electorate who’s tired of feeling kicked around.

“But we’ve had North Dakota Nice”, you say. And with that, I’d agree. But I’d also argue that’s been part of the problem. Let me explain.

To illustrate, I want you to envision a bully on a playground. This bully is the type who acts one way in front of the teachers, but in the corners of the playground he picks away at his targets time and time again. He knows what he wants and he’s gonna get it. He’s brutal. It’s a given that some people can only take so much of such treatment. So, one day someone bloodies his nose. And what does he do? That’s right, he runs to the teacher crying that he’s been victimized.

This, my friends, is what I believe we’re seeing in North Dakota politics. For too long, we’ve allowed establishment political forces in Bismarck to go largely unchecked in wielding their power at the Capitol. Oh, sure, many — if not most — of them are respected in their communities. They’re successful business owners, doctors, educators, and the list goes on. Yet, in the shadows they’re crude politicians. Like the bully on the playground, they can be brutal. And as a friend of mine often reminded his close political associates, “The only thing a bully understands is a bloody nose.” (Figuratively speaking of course.)

The current state of politics isn’t exactly a surprise— at least to some of us it’s not. In fact, I wrote about it in April of this year when I expressed the view that “People are Waking Up to the Reality that ND Nice Doesn’t Work in Politics“. The first time I wrote about this was way back in May of 2017 when I pointed out that “North Dakota Nice Does Not Equate to Changing Establishment Politics“.

In many situations, I can’t help but wonder if the claim of things being “toxic” isn’t just a word used by political types who can’t stomach the idea of accountability and being challenged. And now that their noses have been bloodied a little bit, they want to play victim.

I’m all for civility in politics. In fact, I highly encourage it. But if establishment political forces are going to use “North Dakota nice” to wield power and influence at the expense of the people, then they shouldn’t be surprised when some folks finally say they’ve had enough and just won’t sit and take it any longer.

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Sources:

  1. Are North Dakota politics becoming more toxic? Some lawmakers, observers say yes | INFORUM
  2. Second Bismarck senator announces retirement, citing ‘extreme rhetoric and divisiveness’ | INFORUM
  3. https://www.facebook.com/664668381/videos/922118131732276/
  4. Port: This video sums up the toxicity in North Dakota politics everyone is talking about | Grand Forks Herald
  5. Home | We the People Rally (wethepeoplend.com)
  6. 11-8-21 The Chris Berg Show Episode 26 | AM 1100 The Flag WZFG
  7. People are Waking Up to the Reality that ND Nice Doesn’t Work in Politics – The Minuteman Blog
  8. North Dakota Nice Does Not Equate to Changing Establishment Politics – The Minuteman Blog
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About T. Arthur Mason 874 Articles
T. Arthur Mason is a native North Dakotan who has spent nearly all of his life in the Peace Garden State. As the third of four children in Western North Dakota, Mason grew to appreciate family and the outdoors. Some of his fondest memories are annual deer hunts with family and friends. In his early teenage years, faith became a central part of T. Arthur Mason's life. He and the majority of his family attend church together on a weekly basis and find this a fulfilling aspect of their lives. Through the influence of his father, T. Arthur Mason became intrigued with politics. As a boy, he attended political events with his father and enjoyed the friendships that resulted as a byproduct of those political associations. As Mason grew older, he became convinced that the quote often attributed to Thomas Jefferson was true, "That government is best which governs least." Today, T. Arthur Mason enjoys time with his wife and children, an occasional hunt, and an increasingly active life on the political scene. This blog is the fulfillment of a dream to design a web site in the realm of politics and to advocate for the principles of Liberty and constitutionally limited government. On behalf of all those that contribute to The Minuteman, we hope you enjoy your time on the site and will share the message with others.