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Port: No, I don't have a legislative candidate bugged

Sen. Jason Heitkamp claims I must have bugged his phone or his home or his vehicle. To be clear, I didn't, though we should be asking ourselves how political figures like Heitkamp are able to maintain a following.

Jason Heitkamp records himself delivering a political commentary
State Sen. Jason Heitkamp of District 26, who is currently seeking the Republican nomination for the state House in District 25, is seen here recording a political commentary for Facebook while driving.
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MINOT, N.D. — Last week I reported that state Sen. Jason Heitkamp, a Republican from District 26, seemed to be on track to settle a criminal theft charge in Bottineau County.

His defense attorney told me Heitkamp has cut a $1,500 check to the alleged victim in the case for the property at issue, and that he was in the process of working on getting the charges dismissed. The attorney, Matthew Dearth of the Vogel Law Firm, characterized the whole thing as a misunderstanding in which Heitkamp, while cleaning out a garage, disposed of some valuable items he didn't have authority to get rid of.

As of this morning, court records show that a jury trial is still scheduled for November .

I thought it was important to update the story as Heitkamp is on the ballot this year. He's running in one of the many contested Republican primaries across the state, this time for the House in District 25 (he was moved into a new district through redistricting). The theft charge against him had made headlines previously, and with the primary vote looming on June 14, I thought voters deserved to know the latest from the case.

But the way Heitkamp responded to my story is also noteworthy. In a video he recorded for Facebook while driving — "man ranting at his phone while driving" has become a popular genre of political commentary for a certain type of Republican — he accused me of having his phone or his home or possibly even his vehicle "bugged."

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(He also said he missed the news conference in Bismarck held by Bastiat Caucus lawmakers to condemn Gov. Doug Burgum's political spending in legislative races because he couldn't get off work.)

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't amused by Heitkamp's video. A bit prideful, even. My job is to give you, the audience, a glimpse behind the curtain of regional politics. I must be doing a bang-up job of it if a politician finds my work so revealing he thinks I have him bugged.

Which I don't. I don't think this needs to be said, but just in case, since we live in such paranoid times, allow me to be clear and emphatic: I haven't bugged anyone.

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A source with knowledge of the situation told me Heitkamp was working on a settlement, so I called his defense attorney and got an on-the-record explanation.

File this bogus claim alongside Heitkamp's insistence that I'm an animal abuser in the stuff-we-shouldn't-take-seriously file.

I'm writing now about Heitkamp's video because, again, voters deserve to know about the character of the people on the ballot. Heitkamp isn't some fringe candidate. He's an incumbent, having first been elected to the state Senate in 2020 despite a history of ugly Facebook posts .

In the District 25 convention earlier this year, he lost by only a few votes .

This man has spent the last two years participating in the very important job of writing North Dakota's budgets, and making North Dakota's laws, and there is a not-zero chance he could be elected to continue doing that job as a member of the state House of Representatives.

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Yet any rational review of his public demeanor shows that he is fundamentally unfit for office. Even setting all questions of voting record and ideology aside, the man is barely coherent.

And yet, he has a following, like many other out-there political figures. People are voting for him.

We ought to be asking ourselves why that is.

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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