MINOT, N.D. — Sen. Nicole Poolman, a Republican from Bismarck first elected in 2012, used a floor speech at the special session in Bismarck today to announce her retirement from office.
In her remarks, a prepared version of which I obtained in advance, Poolman cited personal and professional reasons for leaving elected office. She wants to focus more on what she described as her "real" job as a teacher, and also on the needs of her son who has an intellectual disability.
But she also cited a growing lack of civility in politics.
"Politically, we are living in divisive times. Toxic times. I would be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling a little weary," she said in her prepared remarks. "When I ran ten years ago, it was because I saw civility diminishing in our national conversations, and I didn’t want that to happen here in North Dakota. I hope I have contributed to the atmosphere of respect and decorum in my time here, but I do feel civility and respect slipping — even here in North Dakota. Some days, even in the legislature."
There's truth in that. This week Rep. Jeff Hoverson, a Republican for Minot and member of the far-right Bastiat Caucus, apologized for insulting House Majority Leader Chet Pollert during a floor speech amid fears that he would be censured. The special session has also seen its committee rooms filled with recalcitrant anti-vaccination activists lean toward harassment and intimidation as their modus operandi.
During the Legislature's regular session, earlier this year, Luke Simons, a Republican from Dickinson and also a member of the Bastiats, was expelled from the Legislature after years worth of accusations of harassment were revealed in this column.
"I hope the North Dakota Senate will continue its value of decorum — the rest of the country could learn a lot from the way we treat one another and respectfully debate challenging issues here," Poolman continued.
Be that as it may, losing someone like Poolman feels like a loss for those of us interested in serious-minded policymaking. Not because I always agreed with Poolman on the issues, but because she wasn't of the breed of reactionary policymakers and activists who don't so much serve the public as seek to titillate a political audience with unserious proposals harmonized with whatever the current outrage is on social media and cable news.
A prime example of that sort of lawmaker is Rep. Rick Becker, a Republican and the founder of the Bastiat Caucus who serves (or, at least, is elected from) the same district Poolman is.
I don't begrudge anyone their decision to leave public service to focus on personal priorities like family and career. We can often forget that politicians are human beings, too. By the end of her term, Sen. Poolman will have served the State of North Dakota, and the people of District 7, very well for more than a decade.
That's a lot to give.
What worries me is that, in this current environment, every vacancy left by someone like Poolman can be filled by one of the reactionaries. In normal times, maybe that's just the way it goes, but these don't feel like normal times.
At a time when we are in desperate need of grown-up leadership in the halls of power, we are increasingly beset by angry juveniles, and every time one of the adults retreats by leaving public office, or giving up attendance at school board meetings, or ending their participation in local party politics because they're fed up with the angry mobs of children with all the harassment and invective they perpetrate to get what they want, it feels like a loss.
This is not an ideological argument. What we're facing is a crisis of competency.
Poolman, though a good Republican and consistent conservative, is most importantly a competent lawmaker. When she leaves the Senate, we'll have one less of those, with no guarantee she'll be replaced by another.
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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.