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Port: A rift in the NDGOP comes to light as Burgum endorses against another Bastiat Caucus candidate

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Gov. Doug Burgum said "there's never been a better time to be a North Dakotan" during the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce Economic Outlook Forum Thursday, Feb. 20, at the Hilton Garden Inn. Photo courtesy of the FMWF Chamber
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MINOT, N.D. -- Gov. Doug Burgum has had enough of the Bastiat Caucus, and he's doing his talking with endorsements in 2020 races.

The end of last week brought news that Burgum was wading into a heated legislative race pitting three Republican lawmakers against one another for District 28's two state House seats.

Shortly after I broke that news, Republican Treasurer candidate Thomas Beadle sent word that Burgum had endorsed him in his nomination race as well.

Beadle sent out a fundraising email on Friday featuring the Burgum endorsement.

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PHOTO: Burgum endorses Beadle
A photo of Governor Doug Burgum and state Rep. Thomas Beadle from a fundraising email sent out by Beadle's campaign for state Treasurer.

What does this have to do with the Bastiat Caucus of conservative North Dakota Republicans?

In the District 28 race, Burgum chose not to endorse incumbent Rep. Jeff Magrum, a member of the Bastiat Caucus of legislative Republicans.

In the Treasurer race, Burgum chose Beadle, a Fargo-area state Representative, over Rep. Dan Johnston of Kathryn, who is also a member of the Bastiat Caucus.

Johnston, for his part, is not without high-profile support, boasting an endorsement from U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer.

Burgum's District 28 move was a bit more provocative -- Magrum was the candidate endorsed by the District 28 Republicans, receiving about twice the number of votes as Rep. Jim Grueneich and Rep. Mike Brandenburg, the candidates Burgum did support -- but by endorsing in the Treasurer's race as well, Burgum sure seems to be taking a stand against the Bastiats.

"We're at a turning point for the NDGOP," one long-time North Dakota Republican told me, arguing that if the NDGOP is going to be a "governing party," they need to dispense with the Bastiat Caucus.

The Bastiats have been growing in numbers and influence since being founded by state Rep. Rick Becker (R-Bismarck). They're becoming something of a rump party within the NDGOP. They charge dues for membership, and in 2018 they even flirted with the idea of supplanting the North Dakota Democratic-NPL as the legislature's minority caucus.

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Becker said he ultimately decided not to pursue that move, despite deeming it possible, because he agreed with NDGOP leadership at the time that it would be damaging for Republicans.

Yet, increasingly, there is friction between the Bastiats and the rest of their party.

Part of it is ideological. On a sliding scale, the Bastiats are further to the right than the rest of the NDGOP, but that sort of division is nothing new. You cannot be as dominant as Republicans have been in North Dakota for decades now, without welding together a coalition from factions with somewhat disparate political views.

The more significant part of it is some astoundingly bad press the Bastiats have earned over the years.

In the 2018 cycle, the Bastiats backed challenger Will Gardner in the Secretary of State race over Republican incumbent Al Jaeger. Gardner won the endorsement at the NDGOP's spring convention that year, but ultimately pulled out of the race when a peeping tom incident from his past was made public. Yet despite that revelation, some Bastiats insisted that Gardner should continue his campaign .

During the 2019 legislative session, Rep. Jeff Hoverson, a Bastiat Caucus member, objected to allowing a Hindu religious leader to give the House chamber's daily invocation.

One Bastiat leader, Senator Oley Larsen (R-Minot), made national headlines with a Facebook post stating that U.S. Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota had been trained by the terrorist group responsible for the 9/11 attacks .

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Oley Larsen Ilhan Omar Collage
State Senator Oley Larsen (R-Minot, top right) claimed Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D-MN, bottom left) was trained by al Qaeda in an October Facebook post.

Rep. Johnston, Beadle's opponent in the Treasurer race this cycle, has a history of putting ugly racial jokes on Facebook .

Charles Tuttle of Minot, a Bastiat-backed fringe candidate for the U.S. House in 2018 who is challenging Republican incumbent Kirsten Baesler in the Superintendent race this year, has "a juvenile court ruling that found he had sexual contact with a young child" on his record.

Even amid pandemic, the Bastiats are giving Republicans headaches.

Bastiat lawmakers were behind the letter to Burgum, demanding he rescind executive orders closing down the state's economy due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Rep. Luke Simons (R-Dickinson) is making headlines with his decision to re-open his barbershop in defiance of Burgum's public health orders.

That nursing home in Minot suing Burgum over his executive orders ? It's owned by Robert Hale, a long-time political activist in the state aligned with the Bastiats. I don't know if that's why Hale's facility is suing, but the political connection is noteworthy.

Which brings us back to Burgum's endorsements.

They seem like a shot across the bow of the Bastiats.

An indication that he's had enough and will act against the caucus, politically, to minimize their influence.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com

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

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 rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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