MINOT, N.D. — Last night the executive committee of the North Dakota Republican Party, during what's been described to me as a tense meeting, voted to repudiate a part of the party's recently-passed platform which included anti-LGBT language.
The meeting minutes I obtained show an 11-3 vote in favor of disavowing the language, though the proceedings weren't without controversy.
At one point, Paul Henderson, the party's Region II chairman, demanded the resignation of overall party chairman Rick Berg citing rule changes made at what the minutes describe an "unsanctioned convention" held recently in Bismarck by a faction of NDGOP activists.
"Paul Henderson states that if Chairman Berg cannot adhere to the rules he recommends that he resign," the minutes state.
Henderson, along with party vice-chairman John Trandem and Region I chairman Chuck Walen, voted in favor of keeping the controversial resolution in place.
A representative for Gov. Doug Burgum voted for removing the resolution.
Sen. John Hoeven and Rep. Kelly Armstrong had representatives at the meeting, though they did not vote.
Sen. Kevin Cramer did not have a representative present per the minutes.
A group of NDGOP activists from across the state signed a letter asking the party to keep the resolution in place.
They also deny that its language, which described "LGBT practices" as "unhealthy and dangerous" and suggested that gay or transgender people may be unsafe to have around children, was bigoted.
"Let us be very clear. This Resolution is not an expression of bigotry, and we reject any and all claims that attempt to mischaracterize it as such," it reads.
Henderson was among the signatories on the letter. Also signing were Rep. Jeff Hoverson (R-Minot), Rep. Jeff Magrum (R-Hazelton), and Jared Hendrix, who has worked as a campaign manager (among other duties) for Cramer.
One lingering question in this controversy is just where, exactly, this language came from.
Many in Republican circles have told me that the 2016 resolution was proposed by Trandem, and amended to its present form in 2018 based on language proposed by long-time Republican Bill Schuh, but my attempts to confirm that have run into a brick wall.
Trandem hasn't responded to repeated phone calls.
A lot of people in Republican circles who have participated in the resolutions process since 2016, when the first iteration of this resolution was first included in the NDGOP's platform, either can't remember how the resolution came to be or aren't returning my calls.
The 2016 resolution, which you can read here, while definitely a statement against anti-discrimination legislation protecting gay and transgendered Americans, did not include the more controversial language which was apparently added in 2018.
Rep. Mike Lefor (R-Dickinson) chaired this cycle's resolutions committee. He says there were no substantive amendments made to it, outside of some grammatical fixes, nor was it discussed. "The problem is there is no institutional memory," he said, noting that those who serve on and preside over the resolutions committee tend to change from cycle to cycle. "All I got was a copy of the 2018 resolutions and a guide for how to run the meeting," he told me.
Columnist and NDGOP party activist Raheem Williams served on the 2018 resolutions committee. "I cannot remember who introduced what," he told me when I called him. Williams won't defend the language, though he feels the NDGOP's executive committee was "throwing the resolutions committee under the bus" by disavowing a resolution they knew was in the platform.
"If they're saying they can't remember it now, they're lying," he told me.
Rep. Mark Owens (R-Grand Forks), another member of the 2018 committee, told me he had no recollection of how the resolution came to be amended. "I honestly don't remember," he said.
Rep. Jim Kasper (R-Fargo), who also participated in the 2018 committee discussions, also said he couldn't remember who submitted the amendments, but he does remember that he opposed them. "I talked against it and said we shouldn't do it," he told me, adding that he proposed getting rid of the entire resolution.
Hendrix, Sen. Don Schaible (R-Mott), Rep. Jason Dockter (R-Bismarck), and Leon Francis (a signatory of the letter mentioned above) were all members of the 2018 committee as well. They did not immediately respond to my inquiries.
Berg also did not immediately respond to an inquiry related to past proceedings of the NDGOP's resolutions committee.
In theory, a political party's resolutions are supposed to be the philosophies and ideas around which the party's candidates coalesce.
In practice, at least in my experience with the NDGOP, the resolutions are largely ignored. The process itself is seen as an anachronism from a by-gone age. A way to appease certain gadflies and zealots, not a serious effort to develop the policy positions, which may explain why this language blindsided so many in the NDGOP.
Hopefully, that shoulder-shrugging becomes a thing of the past. If the party is going to convene a committee to develop statements intended to represent the whole party, they'd better start caring more about what those statements say.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.