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Port: Our lawmakers have little time for culture war clown shows this legislative session

"The 2022 election showed us that the crackpots and culture warriors and 'we the people' populists are a slim minority in North Dakota. Lawmakers should proceed accordingly."

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One of North Dakota's legislative chambers
File photo
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MINOT, N.D. — Election outcomes in other states typically aren't all that relevant to North Dakota's lawmakers. But if this midterm cycle, with the defeat it brought to several conspiracy-addled candidates for governor and Congress, can teach them anything, perhaps it's that the public's appetite for crazy has been slaked.

We had one of those defeats here in North Dakota, after all. Former state Rep. Rick Becker, the founder of the Bastiat Caucus of lawmakers who seem to take their direction from the Fox News channel's primetime lineup, was soundly thumped by Republican incumbent Sen. John Hoeven. Becker took a distant third, failing to be even a competitive second place in any county in the state.

Becker and his caucus were, in past legislative sessions, the ringleaders for several sideshow policy initiatives that were gratifying for Tucker Carlson fans but of little consequence for the serious governance of our state. Traditional conservative lawmakers were sometimes bullied into participating by Becker's supporters, who are very loud and very engaged.

But what the 2022 election showed us is that Becker and his little movement do not enjoy nearly the level of popular support they'd like us to believe. They are not the voice of "we the people," as they often claim. They're the voice of a crank minority even smaller than the Democratic-NPL's political base in our state, which is saying something given that party's performance at the ballot box of late.

Sure, they're concentrated enough in a few legislative districts to put some of their people in office, but their culture war priorities are the minority point of view in our state, and our elected leaders ought to behave that way.

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We need them to behave that way, because our lawmakers have a lot of important business to attend to. Gov. Doug Burgum and a coalition of lawmakers have put an income tax proposal on the table that would not only free most North Dakotans from paying that tax, but would also put our state on path to getting rid of that tax entirely.

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The tax proposal, as Burgum told me during a recent podcast interview , is part of a larger effort to address our state's workforce needs. Burgum told me our state consistently has tens of thousands of job openings and fewer than 1,000 people on unemployment benefits. Even if we kept every high school graduate and every college graduate in the state and working, we still wouldn't have enough people to fill our open jobs.

Child care is another part of that puzzle. It's unaffordable, and inaccessible, and that's keeping too many North Dakotans out of the labor force.

We have education funding problems. Many school districts still aren't on the school funding formula lawmakers developed a decade ago.

We have first responder issues. State radio, the people who pick up the phone during an emergency, is chronically underfunded. Our crime lab is underfunded, too, to the point where we can't even process firearm ballistics in the state.

These are real challenges, worthy of serious debate, and they leave us with no time for clown shows.

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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