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Port: Writing may be on the wall for Rep. Rick Becker's political career

Two leaders from Becker's own district party have jumped into legislative races, meaning he'd have to challenge them to stay in the Legislature.

Rick Becker
Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck.
Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune
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MINOT, N.D. — Now that the holidays are done, we're in an election year, and that means hopeful candidates are filing their paperwork to commence their campaigns.

And there are some very interesting filings in District 7, which is home to state Rep. Rick Becker, a prolific Facebook memelord and founder of the Bastiat Caucus of Trumpian cranks who have been trying, furiously and fruitlessly, to take over control of the North Dakota Republican Party from the more traditional GOPers.

Tune in to any given episode of Becker's low-rent TV show, and you'll probably hear him carrying on about how he and his fellow Bastiats are the true Republicans while all those who aren't in their little club are Republicans-In-Name-Only.

Becker's almost nonexistent legislative accomplishments often get lost in the shadows of furious efforts to discredit these supposed "RINOs."

But who are the actual Republicans? Becker and the Bastiats? Or the Republicans in his own district who seem poised to push him out of office?

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Photo: Rick Becker table stunt
State Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, set up a table and asked citizens to challenge his argument against North Dakota mask mandate.
(Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service, via Twitter)

District 7's lawmakers are on the ballot this year, which means its two House seats and one Senate seat are up for grabs. Retha Mattern, a staff adviser to the State Board of Higher Education, has just announced a campaign for one of those House seats.

Incumbent Rep. Jason Dockter has also indicated that he's running for the other.

And Becker? He tells the Bismarck Tribune that any announcement from him is still a couple of weeks away.

But it's notable that another Republican has announced a campaign for a seat that's filled by an incumbent who hasn't yet signaled a desire to step down.

There is some talk that Becker could run for the state Senate - incumbent Sen. Nicole Poolman announced at last year's special session that she won't be seeking another term - but there's a candidate lined up for that slot as well. Air Force veteran Michelle Axtman announced her campaign for that seat in December .

Whatever path Becker chooses, whether it's running for his current seat again or trying to jump chambers to the Senate, he's going to have to take on another Republican candidate after years spent attacking other Republicans.

And not johnny-come-lately Republicans, either.

Mattern is the vice-chair of the District 7 NDGOP; Axtman is the treasurer and served as an assistant to House Majority Leader Chet Pollert during last year's special session.

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Gov. Doug Burgum is also a variable in this equation. He's shown a willingness to participate in legislative primaries in the past, spending big money to support his preferred slate of candidates, and there's little doubt in my mind that he'd back Becker's opponents in this year's primaries.

Becker's odds of surviving the Republican primary seem bleak despite his insistence that he's the authentic Republican and those opposed to him merely poseurs.

Might Becker opt not to run at all?

You can make the case that it would be a good choice for him.

It would save him the embarrassment of ignominious defeat. Besides, running for elected office might mean he'd have to give up his TV show which, while beholden of an audience so tiny it can't consistently be measured in the ratings, is clearly important to Becker's ego. Federal equal time policies require broadcasters who air one candidate to give that candidate's opponents an equivalent amount of time, though it's not clear if that rule applies to Becker's broadcasts.

And there's also the question of Becker's professional life. Serving in the Legislature means taking a lot of time off from one's day job. There's the months-long regular session which happens every odd-numbered year, plus committee hearings and campaigning.

Becker works as a plastic surgeon and has used his medical credentials to lend credence to his anti-vaccination politics, but people I've spoken to in Bismarck's medical community say this has cost him business.

It's difficult to say how much, but we know that in 2020 Becker took out $63,500 in PPP loans from the federal government to pay his own salary and make payroll at his surgical center.

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PHOTO: Rick Becker business Ayn Rand quote
A photo of the sign outside of a building owned by Rep. Rick Becker which also houses his surgical practice. The sign includes a quote from Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged.
Contributed

Speaking of which, Becker also took out $191,073 in PPP loans for his restaurant and bar businesses, in addition to a $314,356 Restaurant Revitalization Fund grant from the Small Business Administration. That's more than a half-million dollars in federal aid for businesses he's now trying to sell for $1.85 million .

That Becker has bathed himself in this federal assistance while sporting an Ayn Rand quote on the sign outside of his surgical business is an irony that must be noted. I've attempted to speak to Becker in the past as to the status of his PPP loans. Have they been repaid? Forgiven? Some unofficial databases of loans indicate they've been forgiven, but Becker refuses to speak with me about them.

Back to the matter at hand, we may be mistaken in assuming Becker has a choice when it comes to his legislative career. The realities of his professional situation may, in addition to the efforts of his own district party's leadership, be pushing him out of politics.

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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