Friday Mailbag: ND political polling, Dems attacking PPP loans, accountability for cops, and the Dakota Access Pipeline

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Rob Port
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MINOT, N.D. — Remember that old Dick Van Dyke movie about the flying car? The one called " Chitty Chitty Bang Bang" ?

It was one of my favorites when I was a kid, and I always thought the odd name referred to the sound old cars made when starting up. I recently learned the actual origin (thanks, Reddit!) -- turns out it is British military slang for the permission slip WWI-era soldiers needed to leave their barracks and visit a brothel.

No joke.

Also, the author of the children's book "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang"? None other than Ian Fleming, better known as the guy who created James Bond.

It's a wild, wild world, my friends.


Anyway, it's time for another Friday mailbag, which have been a little inconsistent of late. I apologize. If you'd like to send something in for this column, send it to Submissions may be edited for clarity and brevity.

Luke writes: 1) Have you seen any polling lately for N.D. for the general presidential election or the house of reps election? I have not seen anything since like March. 2) I'm just curious, is there anyone in the Dem-NPL that has a scintilla of name recognition to even be competitive in any U.S. House/Senate seats in N.D. for the foreseeable future?

I haven't seen any polling recently. There is a lot of political polling happening in North Dakota all the time. The political parties, the candidates, and all manner of interest groups poll all the time. Most of those results, though, are kept private. Sometimes they'll share the information with someone like me, but not often. My feeling is that Rep. Kelly Armstrong doesn't have much to worry about in his race against Democratic challenger Zach Raknerud and that President Donald Trump is probably polling about as strong as ever.

As for the Democrats and their bench of candidates, the leaders from their past era of success in the 1980s and 1990s are aging out. The young Democrats have grown up and entered politics with little experience in how to be successful. They have trouble recruiting serious candidates because who wants to run and get slaughtered? But a lack of serious candidates hurts their ability to recruit good leadership for the party, which in turn hurts their ability to recruit serious candidates.

It's a vicious cycle, and I'm not sure when it ends for them. Maybe when the Democratic party, in general, starts caring about rural voters again, which seems unlikely to happen any time soon.

Scott writes: Good article on the N.D. Dem Party dumping on Gov. Burgum . One statement [from the Democrats] that struck me as odd is that "N.D. small businesses are struggling to access the loan program ...". The truth is that the program is very easy to access through local banks who work with the SBA, which is evidenced by the current approx. $150 billion surplus in the loan program. I'm part of a small business and found the PPP program application to be very simple. Our business banker was more than willing to help out; they get paid for doing the application. Our loan was for $98,000 and has served as an excellent bridge during the time we had to close the doors. Keep up your good work.

Scott's experience with the PPP program seems a common one, at least among North Dakotans. A friend of mine who works in banking messaged me, responding to the same column Scott read and said similar things. "The Dems should relax on PPP. There is literally over 100 billion still available if 'mom and pop' businesses want to go get it," he told me. "Basically, if someone came to us, we had them approved within about 30 minutes if they had their financials with them."

Part of the problem is we're reading this statement from the Democrats as if it were a serious attempt to discern an actual problem in a widely-used federal program. In reality, it was a cheap political stunt with amateurish execution. As I noted in my answer to Luke above, the North Dakota Democratic-NPL struggles to recruit talented people, and this episode is proof enough of that.


I mean, the Democrats attacked Burgum because a business he founded took a PPP loan, and they apparently didn't know their own candidate, Burgum's challenger Shelley Lenz, also took a loan. How does that even happen?

Collin writes: I wholeheartedly agree with your commentary about cops investigating themselves. I have been considering police reform a good deal lately. It is my hope that change will come. Establishing an independent investigative process for police would benefit everyone. It would benefit the "victim" of police misconduct because it would not feel like a coverup. The same would be for the officer. Being cleared of misconduct by an independent investigative process would go a long way toward clearing the officer's name. The public would benefit in having confidence in the outcome. Everyone wins.

Collin sent this question in before today's news that the City of Fargo would be requesting an outside investigation of former deputy chief Todd Osmundson and his actions at a Black Lives Matter protest in early June. The Attorney General's office, specifically the Bureau of Criminal Investigation, will now be reviewing the matter, and that's an improvement over the Fargo Police Department investigating and exonerating itself.

Still, as I wrote in my column about the news , cops investigating cops are not going to solve law enforcement's systemic problems with accountability. There is a lot of momentum toward law enforcement reform right now, and I hope one way that reform manifests itself is in the creation of independent panels or committees, run by civilians, who are empowered to investigate instances of alleged wrongdoing by law enforcement.

Some will resist that sort of reform, arguing that civilians don't have the expertise to hold cops accountable, but that's nonsense. Civilians write the laws cops enforce. Even the military has, at the top of its chain of command, civilian leadership. If the cops can't be accountable to civilians, we're in a lot of trouble.

Lee writes: If fossil fuel consumption accelerates climate change, then would the Dakota Access Pipeline help accelerate weather patterns that flood eastern North Dakota farms, therefore making it more difficult for farmers to plant and harvest their crops? Do the costs of the pipeline outweigh the benefits for both North Dakota farmers and North Dakotans generally? Who profits from the pipeline? Will you receive dividends or kickbacks? Or are the benefits more indirect?

I have no economic interest in the Dakota Access Pipeline at all, either directly or indirectly. I receive no "dividends" or "kickbacks." My only source of income is my salary from the Forum Communications Company.

I support pipelines because I think they're necessary. We all use things like oil and natural gas. Those people you see on television and the internet carrying on ad nauseum about the evil oil industry and the climate crisis? They're using oil and natural gas (and probably a lot of coal, too).


The truth is, we simply do not have a good alternative to oil and gas right now, and as long as that remains true, we should build safe and reliable infrastructure to carry those things, like the Dakota Access Pipeline.

As for weather patterns and climate change, that's a more significant issue than I have room for in this column, but one problem the environmental activists face is how often their apocalyptic predictions have been wrong in the past. In 2009, at a climate conference in Copenhagen, former Vice President Al Gore predicted that we would have no ice cap at the north pole by 2014. "Some of the models suggest that there is a 75% chance that the entire north polar ice cap, during some of the summer months, could be completely ice-free within the next five to seven years," he said.

I'm pretty sure we still have plenty of ice at the north pole. In fact, in 2014, the year the poles were supposed to be ice-free, the ice pack grew.

Which isn't to say that the climate isn't warming. It is, no doubt, it's just not at all clear that this turn of events is the catastrophe some say it is.

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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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