MINOT, N.D. — The Legislature may not be in session, but the work of lawmakers continues in the interim. Part of that work means attending interim committee meetings.
Sen. Judy Lee, a Republican from Fargo, chairs the interim Human Services Committee, and ahead of an Oct. 21 meeting of her committee sent out some guidelines requesting that committee members who are not vaccinated wear a mask when attending.
If they don't wish to wear a mask, Lee asked that they make arrangements to attend the committee remotely.
Sen. Jason Heitkamp, a member of the Trump-aligned Bastiat Caucus of unserious cranks, rebuked Lee for the guidelines, and went so far as to threaten legal action over the matter in an email addressed to Lee, Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, Legislative Management Chairman Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, the director of Legislative Council John Bjornson, Gov. Doug Burgum's office, as well as an email list for all state lawmakers.
UPDATE: After this column was published, Sen. Heitkamp contacted my editor to object to my assertion that he is a member of the Bastiat Caucus. He claims that he is not. I have seen emails to Bastiat Caucus members that included Sen. Heitkamp, but the group has steadfastly refused to divulge its membership to the public. If Sen. Heitkamp wants to distance himself from the group, I'm happy to make note of it, and would have done so if he'd bothered to have a conversation with me.
"My medical history is protected under HIPAA Law. My medical conditions are a private matter by law. Unless I am under court ordered quarantine or isolation, (pursuant to the civil rights act of 1964), you have to prove that I am a harm or a threat to others in this committee," Heitkamp wrote in his Oct. 4 email which I obtained from a legislative source.
"I do not want to take legal action due to your discriminatory behavior. I would hope that this will make the matter closed," Heitkamp concluded.
The question of masking has, inexplicably, divided us, but one might think that a reasonable person could accept something as simple as a request to wear a mask during a committee meeting, or to participate remotely, as a compromise. Especially when working in a government body where compromise is a necessity.
Unfortunately, Heitkamp and the members of the Bastiat Caucus are not reasonable people. Heitkamp, specifically, is one of the more ... colorful members of the Legislature. During the 2020 election, and his first campaign for the Legislature, Heitkamp was unapologetic about social media posting calling for former President Barack Obama, and former Sen. Hillary Clinton, to be lynched.
"Treason is a crime that is punishable by hanging," Heitkamp told me when I spoke with him about the posts. "They don't shoot you. They hang you."
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More recently Heitkamp accused his own party, which is in control of the redistricting process this interim, of gerrymandering his district, a claim that has met with bipartisan rebuttal, including from former Democratic lawmaker Bill Amerman who suggested that Heitkamp may be living in the Twilight Zone.
An apt observation, I'm afraid.
I attempted to contact Heitkamp for comment at the cell phone listed in his legislative biography, a number at which I've reached him before, but repeatedly received a message from Verizon stating that my call could not be completed.
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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.