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Port: Becker backers may attempt an arcane rule change at NDGOP convention to circumvent the June ballot

In true Trumpian form, U.S. Senate candidate Rick Becker's followers seemingly think they can ignore election law when it doesn't produce the results they want.

Rick Becker
Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck.
Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune
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MINOT, N.D. — Hold on to your hats, folks, because this is going to be a wild ride through the byzantine rules of party conventions and our state's candidate selection process, but you need to pay attention.

There is an effort afoot to circumvent North Dakota's election laws that is not at all unlike disgraced former President Donald Trump's conspiracy-addled and legally dubious efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

In our state, the primaries for the political parties, the contests which determine the candidates that will represent the parties on the November ballot, happen in June.

What, then, is the point of the endorsing conventions the political parties hold each cycle in late March and early April? The candidates selected at those events are automatically placed on the June ballot for their party's nomination.

All other candidates seeking that nomination must collect signatures to make the June ballot. This means that candidates who lose the convention endorsement can still run for and receive the nomination from voters in June.

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Gov. Doug Burgum did just that in 2016.

Sen. Kevin Cramer followed that same path in 2012.

But there is an effort afoot to ignore North Dakota's long-standing laws, to ignore the decision of statewide voters on the June ballot, and recognize whoever wins at the NDGOP state convention this weekend as the nominee for the November ballot.

Last night there was a meeting of the Minot-area NDGOP delegates, and I got some reports from the people in attendance. "Jared Hendrix appears to be presenting/advocating this idea that delegates should amend the convention rules to directly nominate candidates, instead of endorse," one surprised Minot-area Republican told me.

This has been on my radar for a while.

Hendrix, in addition to being a consultant for Rick Becker's U.S. Senate campaign and the chairman of the term limits measure committee which is facing a criminal investigation over its signature collection practices , is also the chairman of District 38 Republicans in the Minot area.

PHOTO: Jared Hendrix
Bastiat Caucus organizer Jared Hendrix speaks during a rally at the North Dakota Capitol on April 5, 2021.
(Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service)

What he's arguing is that the delegates at the convention can change the party's rules and, ignoring both the June primary vote and state law, nominate candidates for November.

His motivations are as crass and self-serving as they are transparent.

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Hendrix and Becker have been manipulating the delegate selection process at the district level for months, to the point where Becker's chances of beating incumbent Sen. John Hoeven at the convention are a coin flip. But Becker isn't very popular outside of his very energetic faction of Trumpy supporters, and few see a path to victory for him on the June ballot where Hoeven, if Becker stays in the race past the convention, is expected to wallop him in a landslide.

Hoeven's advantage in June won't matter, though, if the convention nominates instead of merely endorsing.

What do we think of this?

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For one, this is an odd strategy for people such as Hendrix and Becker, who go around shouting about "we the people."

I guess "we the people" matter except when the majority of them don't want Rick Becker to be the NDGOP's candidate for Senate.

For another, this isn't legal. The candidate selection process for the political parties is spelled out in state law that both parties have been following for decades. Should it be in the law? We can have that debate, but there's no getting around the fact that it is, and nobody gets to just ignore the law.

The intellectual argument (if you can call it that) for this maneuvering comes from long-time NDGOP activist Curly Haugland, who has served in various party leadership roles in the past, including chairman and national committeeman.

In a March 27 blog post describing North Dakota's current primary process as "critical primary theory" (like critical race theory, get it?), Haugland argues that the law doesn't matter. "State party rules, as adopted by the NDGOP convention, are superior to state laws," he writes. "The upcoming NDGOP convention has the power, if they choose to use it, to adopt rules giving the delegates the right to NOMINATE candidates as the official Republican nominees in the 2022 general election."

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There's even a website up touting these rule changes called, in a blisteringly obtuse bit of euphemism, the NDGOP "United as One" rules package . It's not clear at this point who put the website up, but what it's promoting is in line with Haugland and Hendrix's theories.

This isn't a new argument for Haugland. He even co-authored a book about it in 2016. It's called "Unbound" (which is also the name of a "sexual wellness company" as I found out from Google while searching for this book). The co-author is Sean Parnell, a public policy consultant who lives in Virginia, according to the author bio information. Parnell previously was the president of the Center for Competitive Politics and vice-president at The Heartland Institute, according to the bio.

What's the end game for the Becker backers?

Chaos, I believe. No court in the land is going to buy the idea that the NDGOP can take a vote at its convention and circumvent long-standing candidate selection law in the middle of an election year.

But Becker is running out of road.

He might win this weekend, but he is almost certainly not going to win in June, so the Becker backers are pursuing a Trumpian plot to justify ignoring the will of the voters.

Kind of like how Trump and his supporters tried to ignore the outcome of the 2020 election.

Will they win in court? I'd bet no, but in Trumpian politics that doesn't really matter as long as whatever you're doing continues to enrage your followers.

By the way, the organizer of the "stop the steal" rally that was held in Bismarck after President Joe Biden won the 2020 election?

That was Jared Hendrix .

Anyway, expect the NDGOP convention this weekend to kick off with a fight over who gets to lead the convention, and then a protracted battle over rule changes.

CORRECTION 2:10 p.m. March 29: Sean Parnell is a public policy consultant who lives in Virginia, according to his author biography. Parnell previously was the president of the Center for Competitive Politics and vice-president at The Heartland Institute. Details in a reference to Parnell were wrong in an earlier version of this story; it has been updated with the correct information.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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