Port: Sen. Jeff Magrum, who postured himself as Gov. Burgum's nemesis, has had an awful legislative session

Magrum introduced more bills and resolutions than any other lawmaker this legislative session, but he's found little success in winning support for them.

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

MINOT, N.D. — If you follow North Dakota politics, you know that our state's dominant political organization, the North Dakota Republican Party, is sharply divided between traditionally conservative Republicans and a faction of populists who have become more belligerently prominent during the Trump era.

That divide was perhaps never more visible than during last year's primary process, which saw Gov. Doug Burgum, a member of the former faction, spend big money trying to defeat legislative candidates representing the latter.

Rep. Jeff Magrum, R-Hazelton, holds up an attack ad paid for by Brighter Future Alliance at a press conference in the North Dakota Capitol on Thursday, May 26, 2022.
Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

The end result? Burgum's efforts were a mixed bag, if we're putting it nicely.

One of the folks who beat Burgum was state Sen. Jeff Magrum of District 8. Since taking up residence in the Senate, Magrum set himself up as the ideological successor to former state Rep. Rick Becker, the founder of the far-right and Trump-aligned Bastiat Caucus of state lawmakers.

Magrum has also postured himself as a nemesis of sorts for Burgum's agenda, which includes the Midwest Carbon Express pipeline, a project about which the governor has been outspokenly enthusiastic.


Things haven't gone swimmingly for him this session.

Today the state House defeated Senate Bill 2384 , which, as introduced, was a bit of anti-vaccine doggerel that would have banned giving any mRNA vaccines, including the COVID-19 vaccines, to any mammal in the state of North Dakota. That vote means that 22 of the 26 bills and resolutions Magrum introduced this session — by far more than any other lawmaker in Bismarck — have failed.

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Just two pieces of legislation introduced by Magrum —- one dealing with a minor definition change in labor law and another merely a study of the housing needs of people with disabilities — have passed. Two more bills are still outstanding.

For those of you keeping score at home, that's a .083 batting average, with a chance to go even lower.

I wonder if the voters of District 8 are feeling well-served by Magrum? His bombastic approach to policymaking has alienated many of his colleagues in Bismarck. There's no question that Burgum is unpopular among Magrum's constituents, but did voters elect their senator to prosecute a feud with the governor? Or to make progress on policies that matter to them?

If it's the latter, then Magrum has done a poor job. Heck, even if it's the former, can we really say that Magrum has scored any points against Burgum by driving his legislative agenda straight into the ditch?

Or maybe that doesn't matter to Magrum's supporters. We live in a political era where posture seems to matter more than anything else. Magrum has successfully postured himself as the sort of mad-as-hell populist crusader many North Dakota finds appealing.

For those people, what this politician actually accomplishes in terms of bills passed may be beside the point.


It's not that the Magrum wing of state politics can't claim some victories. Many of the culture war bills before this legislature have originated from that faction, and many of them have been sent to Burgum's desk, though as the governor wields his veto pen, it remains to be seen how many actually become law.

But Magrum, specifically, as measured by the advancement of serious policy proposals? He's not done well, and outside of the culture war bills, neither has his compatriots.

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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