Friday Mailbag: Luke Simons, 'hit pieces', the 'it's just the flu' argument, and the price of insulin

Feel free to email me any time at, or hit me up on Twitter. Submissions may be edited for clarity and brevity.

District 36 Rep. Luke Simmons, of Dickinson, sits down with The Press Thursday afternoon regarding the recent allegations of misconduct. (Josiah C. Cuellar/The Dickinson Press)
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MINOT, N.D. — Is anyone else tired of outrage? We've become addicted to it. Many things warrant outrage, of course, but so much of our modern culture is built around finding things to be outraged about. From Facebook and Twitter to traditional news outlets, our media deliver a steady stream of it, as do the politicians and the activists, and we, with an unquenchable appetite, gobble it all up.

I'm old enough to remember when apathy was considered one of society's great problems. Now I wonder if we all care a bit too much.

On that not-so-cheery note, it's time to celebrate this Friday with some mailbag questions. Feel free to email me any time at , or hit me up on Twitter . Submissions may be edited for clarity and brevity.

Leon writes this tweet in response to my recent reporting on the accusations of erratic and abusive behavior from Rep. Luke Simons , a Republican and Bastiat Caucus member from Dickinson:


I wanted to highlight Leon's tweet (and there are many more if you click through) because it's typical of the sort of response I receive when I'm writing critically of a popular political figure (and Simons, despite a thin resume of accomplishments in office, has succeeded in building a dedicated Facebook following).

If you write something that casts a figure like that in a bad light, no matter how factual, their supporters will come out of the woodwork to accuse you of a "hit job."

I want to think there was a time when public figures like Simons were capable of feeling shame and remorse, when their supporters wouldn't dig in their heels and refuse to acknowledge reality, but maybe that's just wishful thinking on my part. Maybe it's always been like this, and I'm just looking at the past through rose-colored glasses.

Simons is currently denying the myriad accusations of behavior ranging from caddish to downright disgusting, and his theory for why he's being accused supposes that it's a great conspiracy hatched to take him down because of his Trumpish strain of populist conservatism. "[T]here are bureaucrats out there that are very much against conservative ideals and fighting against conservative ideals," he told the Dickinson Press yesterday.

The "bureaucrats" he's referring to are lawyers and interns at Legislative Council, a state agency that serves the Legislature with legal advice for things like bill drafting. I know nothing about the politics of those people. Perhaps Simons is right, and they're liberals.

So what? The idea that they're executing some plot against Simons because of his politics is ridiculous. There are lawmakers in Bismarck who are far more conservative and far more effective than Simons could ever dream of being, and they seem to have no problems working with the staff at Legislative Council.

The problem is not Simons' politics. The problem is Simons. Specifically, the way he's behaved that has made the people around him uncomfortable to the point they don't want to work with him anymore.


If Simons were a better sort of person, he might choose to recognize that and do something about it. If his supporters were less dogmatic, they might recognize it too.

Miki writes about the Luke Simons situation: "My question is, what would he say if his mother or wife or daughter were subjected to that sort of behavior and attitude?"

I suspect if Simons were tasked with judging someone else who was guilty of the behavior he's been accused of, he wouldn't be defending it. I don't think his supporters would defend it either.

Particularly if that person were, say, a Democrat.

It's that sort of hypocrisy that makes this situation all the worse.

Craig writes, in response to my column headlined, "The 'it's just the flu' crowd owes us an apology' : "I am a part of the crowd you denigrate with your latest offering, but you will get no apology from me. While "it's just the flu" has not been a refrain of mine, the death rate is no higher than and probably considerably lower than flu. Probably? Science tells us that infection numbers are anywhere from 10 to 100 times higher than those confirmed. No apology is due to you or any of the other hand-wringers."

Craig is wrong to suggest that the COVID-19 pandemic has been no more deadly than the flu. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs conducted a study comparing COVID-19 patients to those suffering from the flu and found the former's death was nearly five times higher than the latter's. The COVID-19 patients were also more likely to end up on breathing machines, be admitted to intensive care units, and stayed in the hospital for days longer than flu patients.

A similar study published in Lancet found that hospitalizations from COVID were much higher than those from previous flu seasons, and the death rate was nearly twice as high.


Results are going to vary from study to study depending on the nature of those being studied. For instance, the VA's study looked at older patients. The average age was 69 years old. The study in Lancet looked at a broader age demographic.

But whatever way you look at it, COVID-19 is a much more serious affliction.

Craig points out that many COVID-19 infections were never diagnosed, likely because those suffering had light symptoms and never sought testing or medical care. That's true, but then it's also true of the flu as well. The instances of disease most likely to be documented are the most severe cases that prompt those suffering to seek medical attention.

Craig's obstinance is not uncommon, unfortunately, and most likely has its roots in people deciding which outcome they'd like to be true and then choosing to believe only the facts and arguments which support that outcome.

Keith writes, in response to my column about a price control legislation for insulin: "Price controls maybe no, but put controls on what drug companies charge. I’m on a drug that’s $475 per month here. The same drug in Canada is $114 per month Canadian or about $85 American at Walmart. There is no good reason for this."

Keith is right that there's no "good" reason for the price differential for prescription drugs between Canada and the United States, but there is a reason, which I wrote about in another column earlier this month .

Canada's drugs are cheaper because Canada, and many other countries with government-run health care systems, control drug prices. And Americans pay for these price controls. It can take billions of dollars in investments to produce a workable drug that can help people, but because of price controls in places like Canada, and the limited time window they have to hold onto their patents before other companies can make generic windows, the pharmaceutical industry is hamstrung when it comes to recouping that investment.

They deal with this by jacking up prices in the American market, where we don't have price controls. I'm not defending the practice. It is what it is.

Perhaps this makes you believe that America should start controlling prices too, but that's not the answer.

What politicians and bureaucrats think drug companies ought to charge for their products has no bearing on what it actually costs to develop and bring that product to market. The cost is the cost. Other countries control prices, and Americans serve as the great pressure relief valve for the drug and health care markets, paying more to prop up those price controls.

That's something that needs to be resolved through international trade policy, not domestic market intervention.

Make Canadians and other proponents of government health care pay their fair share.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

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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