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Port: Senate candidate in battleground NDGOP primary accused of aggressive, threatening behavior

Rep. Jeff Magrum, who is now seeking the NDGOP's Senate nomination in District 8, is accused of multiple incidents of threatening and even aggressive behavior.

magrum_burgum.jpg
North Dakota Rep. Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton, stares down Gov. Doug Burgum as the Republican governor enters the House of Representatives chamber on Nov. 8, 2021.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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MINOT, N.D. — District 8, a mostly rural jurisdiction north of Bismarck, has become the battleground in the Republican legislative primaries that are roiling the NDGOP.

And things are, at least according to some candidates there, getting ugly.

According to Scott McCarthy, one of four candidates seeking the NDGOP's nomination for two state House races, a parade in Linton ended on a discordant note when one of the volunteers supporting his campaign was accosted by Rep. Jeff Magrum.

Magrum, who is currently in the House, is seeking the Senate nomination. He's running along with House candidates Brandon Prichard and SueAnn Olson. McCarthy is running with Rep. Dave Nehring, who is seeking the Senate nomination, and Mike Berg, who is running for the House.

"We did the parade and at the end of the parade we pulled into the starting spot so that we could take the banners and stuff off the truck. As Berg and I were packing his truck, we turned around and saw Jim surrounded by Jeff Magrum and others," McCarthy told me.

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He said he thought they were having a normal conversation at first, but then he could see things were getting heated. "After I realized they weren't just saying hi, and as I approached the truck I could hear angered, high-tension talking going on. I heard Magrum yelling at Jim about how can he support us. We're lying and impostors and we shouldn't be running."

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McCarthy said that as he entered the conversation, Magrum accused him and his running mates of claiming to be the convention-endorsed candidates in the race. Magrum, Olson, and Prichard did receive the endorsement of the District 8 NDGOP committee earlier this year.

It's ironic that Magrum would be bent out of shape about this given that he's supporting Marvin Lepp for the secretary of state nomination and not convention-endorsed candidate Michael Howe.

"I told him he was harassing our volunteers, and then he got really heated. He started hurling insults at me and yelling at me," McCarthy said. "I told him to leave, that this was inappropriate, and to leave Jim be," McCarthy continued, referring to Jim Swartout who owns a flagpole business and supported McCarthy and his running mates in the parade.

"Magrum got more heated and started screaming at me," McCarthy continued. "At this point his son restrained him and told him this wasn't a constructive conversation."

I spoke with Swartout, who was reluctant to speak about the incident. He said he didn't want to speak negatively about Magrum, calling him "passionate," and also noting that he'd received phone calls from Magum-supporting customers criticizing his political stance.

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Republican legislative candidates Dave Nehring, Mike Berg, and Scott McCarthy, pictured here with family and volunteers around their float in the Linton Ag Days parade on Friday, June 10, 2022.
Provided photo

This is not the first time Magrum has been accused of behaving in an aggressive manner.

In 2019 he accosted a fellow lawmaker at a public meeting about wind turbine regulations. "He was screaming. He was out of control," Rep. Mike Brandenburg, a Republican from Edgeley, said at the time of the outburst which reportedly lasted several minutes .

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Bob Harms, a lobbyist who also attended the meeting, told reporter John Hageman he'd "never seen anything like that."

Magrum admitted to Hageman that he "didn't act appropriately."

Another incident from earlier this year involved Nehring who says acted "aggressive and confrontational" at a meeting of the District 8 executive committee. Magrum was upset about a report detailing the possibility that a fundraiser for his campaign had violated state campaign finance laws.

Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley
Rep. Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley, speaks in committee during the 2018 legislative session.
Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

"When I told him this wasn't the time or place for it, he just kept going. When I started ignoring him that just set him off more," Nehring said.

Nehring feels Magrum was trying to goad him into a fight. "He sat down in a chair next to me and started trying to provoke me and I just wasn't having anything to do with it," he said. "[Magrum] was calling me a f------ coward under his breath."

"I volunteered to leave the room so they could continue the meeting uninterrupted," Nehring added. "We should expect more from people who are gong to represent any district. The lack of civility of disheartening. We should have debate and discourse but it should be civil."

Magrum did not respond to an inquiry for this column made via telephone or to his state-issued legislative email address which he has listed on his Senate campaign's Facebook page .

I did speak with him on May 31 and asked him about the incident with Nehring at the executive committee meeting based on what sources in District 8 had told me.

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He dismissed the accounts I'd received as "fake news."

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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