MINOT, N.D. — On May 11, the District 30 Republicans held a reorganization meeting at Solheim Elementary in Bismarck. At the meeting, the existing district leadership was replaced by candidates aligned with the Legislature's Bastiat Caucus.
These contentious reorganization competitions have been happening all over the state, and I've written about them extensively. They speak to some gaping political and cultural divides in North Dakota's dominant political party.
Now, weeks after that meeting in Bismarck, an NDGOP leader from a Minot area district is alleging that a lawmaker acted inappropriately at a restaurant after the meeting.
"After a short celebration dinner at The Pier Bar & Grill in Southport, I said my goodbyes and headed for the door," Mike Blessum, who serves as vice chairman in District 5, wrote to me in an email. "I decided to visit the restroom before driving back to Minot. As I exited the restroom I was confronted in the hallway by outgoing executive committee member Sheri Haugen-Hoffart and another female from their group. They wanted to know who I was and why I was there causing trouble in their district."
After this confrontation, Blessum says things got "uglier."
"Moments later, I was followed out of the restaurant by North Dakota Representative Mike Nathe from District 30 in Bismarck. As we walked side by side in the parking lot, Nathe actually threatened me. He told me, 'This is not over. This is just getting started. This will not end well for you both in the party and out of the party. This will not be good for you financially.'"
Nathe disputed Blessum's version of events.
"He was harassing a lady from our district," Nathe told me, referring to Haugen-Hoffart. "We were all at the same place, the same restaurant and bar. We were all walking out together. She was telling him 'leave me alone.' I told him to leave her alone because we're going to have trouble."
Did Nathe speak at all to Blessum's involvement in the District 30 reorganization?
"I told him it was inappropriate to do what he was doing and people wouldn't stand for that. That was it," Nathe said.
"I never said any of that," he continued, referring to Blessum's assertions about threats. "I don't even know what the guys does. I didn't even know his name. I just know he was a guy from Minot."
"He told him to quit following her," Rep. Glenn Bosch, a Republican lawmaker who also represents District 30. Bosch says he was with Nathe during his interaction with Blessum.
"Where we were sitting was outside of the bathrooms. I could see Sheri having an animated conversation with [Blessum]. This fella followed her out the door. Mike did say to him 'leave her alone stop following her,'" Bosch said. "Because they were having such an animated conversation it looked like he was following her out the door. Perhaps from Mike's perspective, it looked like he was following her. Maybe it was just a coincidence."
"I didn't see anybody threatening anybody. Nobody was walking side by side," Bosch continued.
"I find it interesting that this guy writes a letter three weeks after a fact. He harassed a lady. This is part of the group that supports Luke Simons and harassing women at the Legislature. It really doesn't come as any surprise to me," Nathe told me.
One motivation for those looking to change party leadership was the expulsion of former Rep. Luke Simons, a Bastiat Caucus member from Dickinson, based on evidence that he had harassed several women in Bismarck, including members of legislative staff, members of the news media, and other lawmakers.
Nathe also suggests that Blessum was upset about being denied access to the District 30 reorganization.
"He tried to get into the meeting and we would not let him into the meeting. I was at the door, he tried several times to get in, and I told him no we were only letting members into the meeting. He certainly didn't like it," Nathe said.
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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.