Port: Is it stealing or pragmatism?

"North Dakota Republicans sometimes steal ideas from Democrats. Some shallow thinkers on the left and right see that as a problem. In truth, it's sensible politics, and a strength."

PHOTO: NDGOP Headquarters
The sign for the North Dakota Republican Party headquarters sits along East Boulevard Avenue near the state Capitol in Bismarck.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service file photo

MINOT, N.D. — Follow politics in North Dakota long enough and you become accustomed to certain tropes and cliches. One from the Democratic-NPL and its supporters is germane to this column.

In the more than two decades I've been covering the political beat in this state, no legislative session has gone by without our liberal friends griping about Republicans swiping their ideas.

Sometimes you'll hear certain demagogues grouse about this as if it were political plagiarism. And, in fairness, it has often been the practice that Republicans will take an idea from legislation backed by a Democrat, put it into a Republican bill, and then kill the former while passing the latter.

That's partisan politics at work, I'm afraid. But then, if the idea is a good one, how much should we care about the petty intrigues that went into implementing it?

Partisan shenanigans aside, there is pragmatism at play in this practice. A pragmatism that, I would argue, has been central to the success of the North Dakota Republican Party, allowing its candidates to control state government for more than three decades.


The hot takes from the shallow thinkers, both right and left, would have us believe that this practice is evidence that Republicans are just governing like Democrats. Those on the right bemoan what they perceive as a detour from ideological purity. Those on the left say we should elect actual Democrats instead of Republicans who govern like Democrats.

This is all well and good if you view politics as a team sport — football matches with red jerseys and blue jerseys. But a more enlightened view of politics is as a tool, a process, for serving the needs of society.

Outgoing House Minority Leader Josh Boschee discussed this with me recently on the Plain Talk podcast. Ever the pragmatist, Boschee saw the willingness of Republican leaders to take up Democratic ideas as a sign of the influence of his caucus, tiny as it is in this current Legislature.

And, hey, fair enough, though it's also a feather in the cap of the Republican majority that they're willing to grab onto good ideas, whatever their provenance.

It might behoove Democrats to be more friendly to Republican ideas now and then. They might even find themselves winning some elections.

Because politics should be about serving the public with good ideas, not winning the partisan brawl.

Though, it must be said that there is a growing faction on the right that wants to do away with this pragmatism within the NDGOP. They want the party organized around an obnoxious brand of own-the-libs partisanship. Not a set of principles or a coherent ideology, but really just doing whatever might irritate Democrats.

Recently Sen. Karen Krebsbach, a moderate Republican from Minot who has spent her 34 years in office promoting pragmatic policymaking, was censured by her district's party committee for being skeptical of culture war bills. Specifically those targeting the trans community.


The NDGOP's problem isn't that it sometimes steals ideas from Democrats. It's that an increasing number of hidebound activists see that pragmatism as a problem.

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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