Port: These legislative bullies should spare us the whining about vetoes

"Isn't it typical? So completely in character? That lawmakers in the grips of MAGA-world's anti-'woke' culture war crusade would cloak themselves in victimhood?"

A goateed man in a black suit coat, light blue shirt, and blue and black striped tie looks to the side while seated in front of a name plate and microphone. The name plate reads "Rep. B. Koppelman."
State Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo
Tom Stromme / Bismarck Tribune

MINOT, N.D. — This Legislature in Bismarck has spent much of its session bullying librarians, teachers, trans kids, gay kids, and anyone else not in lock-step with the populist, big-government pieties of the MAGA movement.

So it has been entertaining, in the closing weeks of this session, to watch certain lawmakers, some of them the most ardent proponents of the aforementioned agenda, portraying themselves as the victims of Gov. Doug Burgum and his veto pen.

“I’m getting sick and tired of vetoes,” House Majority Leader Mike Lefor thundered as his chamber failed to override Burgum's veto of a school choice bill. “I feel our branch has been disrespected — we’re not asking for a lot here.”

Right. Just some book bans and stuff. What's the big deal?

"Less than two-thirds of you trust the collective wisdom of our chamber in consultation with the other chamber. That's sad," whined Rep. Ben Koppelman, a Republican from West Fargo. "That shows that we've lost our way as a body. We no longer believe in a legislative branch."


Not only is this whining insufferable from a rhetorical perspective — again, many of these lawmakers have spent this session accusing librarians and teachers of being "groomers" and worse, but now they're playing the victim card — but it's inaccurate from a historical context.

I went through the session laws — the record of all the laws and resolutions passed, as well as vetoes issued — for each regular legislative session going all the way back to 1991 (I excluded special sessions). During that time, our state's governors issued 132 vetoes, including the seven Gov. Burgum has issued so far in 2023.

That's about 7.8 vetoes per regular legislative session, counting line-item and full-bill rejections. Burgum's vetoes this session, at least by number, haven't been egregious. The number is decidedly average, despite the histrionics from certain drama queens.

Burgum's 2023 vetoes — a number that, we must note, isn't final — is just a bit more than half his personal record, which was 13 in 2017. The most since 1991 were the 20 issued by former Gov. Ed Schafer in 1993.

Isn't it typical? So completely in character? That lawmakers in the grips of MAGA-world's anti-"woke" culture war crusade would cloak themselves in victimhood?

Being a victim is central to Trumpism, the ideology that has taken over the Republican party, both in North Dakota and nationally. Even now, disgraced former President Donald Trump is on the campaign trail casting himself as a savior to his poor, downtrodden people. "I am your retribution," he bellows.

Though, in fairness, politicians posturing themselves as messianic figures for isn't something that began with Trump. Remember that Barack Obama supporter who, in 2008, thought her candidate's election might mean she wouldn't have to pay her mortgage anymore?

But I digress.


Lawmakers with a better grasp of our state's history would understand that Burgum's vetoes, in number and content, are hardly unusual.

If they perhaps had more instruction in basic civics, they would understand, as state Rep. Eric Murphy put it in a disgusted speech against overriding Burgum's veto of a book ban, that a veto is "the constitutional right of the governor" no different from the Legislature's right to override a veto with a supermajority vote.

Perhaps some of the points made in Murphy's speech explain the lame lamentations of Burgum's vetoes. Maybe those lawmakers are upset about vetoes because, as Murphy points out, their case for the bills doesn't hold up well to scrutiny.

In this particular situation, lawmakers supporting the book ban would have us believe that our libraries are something akin to adult bookstores. That our librarians are peddling porn in the children's section. One lawmaker even used the term "porndemic" during the floor debate, which would be funny if it weren't part of an ardent expression of a lawmaker bent on censorship.

Anyone who has actually been in one of our state's fine libraries, who has dealt with the wonderful staff who work there, knows that this is nonsense. I suspect most of the proponents of these bills know it's nonsense, too. We don't have a "porndemic." Our libraries have books aimed at LGBTQ audiences, and this causes certain lawmakers to work themselves into a tizzy.

But they can't just say they're against gay books, and the "porndemic" stuff is downright risible, so they resort to other tactics, like playing the victim in the face of the governor's perfectly reasonable vetoes.

What a bunch of snowflakes.

Frankly, I wish this governor had used his veto pen more this session.

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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