Port: Government should solve problems, not create them

"What do Fargo's left-wing city leaders have in common with a right-wing culture warrior in the Legislature? Performative politics."

North Dakota Rep. Brandon Prichard, R-Bismarck, urges House members on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023, to vote for a bill that would restrict drag shows and cabaret performances.
Tom Stromme / The Bismarck Tribune

MINOT, N.D. — An unfortunate side effect of culture war politics is that we spend much time fighting over problems that don't exist.

Allow me to illustrate this point with a couple of recent examples.

In Bismarck, state Rep. Brandon Prichard, a Trumpy Republican just a couple of years removed from high school, decided that a pressing problem in North Dakota was a scourge of drag shows. This juvenescent politician, a self-styled conservative, decided that people weren't capable of making their own choices when it came to drag shows and introduced House Bill 1333 which, in its original form, would have effectively outlawed them.

Not because they pose any threat to the public but because Prichard and his ilk don't like them. Nothing says "limited-government conservative" like imposing your entertainment preferences on others.

But it turns out we have this little thing called the First Amendment, which allows for free expression and peaceful assembly without interference from the government. A law nearly identical to what Prichard introduced has been struck down in Tennessee . Now the state Senate, seeing the writing on the law, has watered down Prichard's proposal.


"Senators removed all references to specific types of restricted performers and recentered the bill around certain actions that cannot be displayed in front of children, including sexual conduct and the exposure of genitals, breasts or buttocks," Jeremy Turley reported this week.

"Doug Burgum's campaign launch did a great job of laying out his resume as a competent leader, but sadly, that's not going to be enough to separate him from the GOP pack."
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"Rick Becker, whose U.S. Senate campaign was rejected by Republicans in 2022, is now claiming to speak for Republicans against government loans and investment while not mentioning the ones he received."

"The promotion of sexual content to minors is already illegal in North Dakota, so the bill would represent only a small addition to state law if passed, according to senators who worked on the amendments."

Prichard, who has made unverified and utterly dubious claims about being a law school student, is justifying this fruitless exercise in cluttering state laws with duplicative language by telling Turley it addresses the problems he set out to solve. Sen. Ryan Bruanberger called the bill what it is: "code clutter."

For my other example, let's consider Fargo's city government, which picked a fight over allowing federal firearms license holders to operate their businesses from their homes.

These license holders aren't running gun stores. They're doing the background checks and other paperwork that facilitates gun transactions that happen online or by mail. They'd been operating from their homes in Fargo for years before the feds noticed a forgotten and unenforced city ordinance prohibiting it. The feds wouldn't renew the licenses until the ordinance changed, but Fargo's leaders balked.

Instead, they picked a fight. There were no reports to law enforcement and no complaints from neighbors about these license holders. Yet Fargo refused to change their ordinance. When the Legislature passed a law overriding that ordinance, Fargo's leaders sued and won on a technicality. Now the Legislature is in the process of taking another crack at it, and the rest of us are left wondering what the point of all this is.

Why did Fargo's leaders, and lawmakers like Rep. Prichard, create problems where none existed?

Because they're performing.


It's nonsense and, worse, it's costing us a lot of time and money along the way.

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 Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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