Port: Burgum steps into hotly-contested legislative race, endorsing candidate running against a Bastiat Caucus incumbent


MINOT, N.D. — Back in January I flagged some developing drama in the race for the NDGOP legislative nomination in District 28.

Given recent developments in that race, it's become something we should be paying attention to, even if most of us don't live in District 28.

Rep. Jim Grueneich, a Republican currently representing District 12 (Jamestown area) in the North Dakota Legislature, told me he was moving with his wife, Naomi, to Ellendale.

(Your humble idiot wrote at the time they were moving to nearby Edgely, but it's Ellendale, though both are in District 28 which is about the size of Connecticut.)

Grueneich also told me he was running for re-election to the state House of Representatives, which is an interesting move given there are already two Republican lawmakers representing District 28 in the state House: Rep. Mike Brandenburg and Rep. Jeff Magrum.


Fast forward to today, and Grueneich has been as good as his word. The local NDGOP activists in District 28 endorsed their incumbents, Brandenburg and Magrum, but Grueneich is going ahead to the June primary.

And he's got some fuel in the tank, at least in terms of endorsements.

In an unusual move, Gov. Doug Burgum has gotten involved in the race, endorsing Grueneich and Brandenburg (as well as incumbent Sen. Bob Erbele). I've been provided copies of a mailer to be sent to voters, as well as a draft statement, announcing the move.

“We are excited to endorse Jim Grueneich, Mike Brandenburg, and Bob Erbele to represent District 28. As legislators Jim, Mike, and Bob have partnered with our Administration to balance the budget, diversify the economy, and reinvent government," Burgum is quoted as saying in the statement, referring to himself and Lt. Governor Brent Sanford.

"Like Brent and me, this team understands the importance of treating taxpayers like customers and maintaining strong partnerships with the business community. As we look ahead, we know it will be critically important to send more leaders to Bismarck who will partner with our Administration. We know we can count on the District 28 Team: Jim Grueneich, Mike Brandenburg, and Bob Erbele," Burgum continues.

I say this is an unusual move because typically governors don't meddle in this sort of intraparty squabbling. Certainly not at the legislative level, where a bad choice can make for an enduring enemy in the legislative branch, making it hard to advance the executive branch's policy agenda.

What's Burgum's calculation?

For one thing, Magrum's behavior has been a bit erratic in the past. A Forum News Service report from May of last year details an incident where Magrum confronted Brandenburg at a meeting of the Emmons County Commission addressing set-back policies for wind turbines. According to the report, Magrum yelled, "Who do you represent?" at Brandenburg, who is an outspoken proponent of wind energy.


"He was screaming. He was out of control," Brandenburg told FNS. Magrum confirmed that law enforcement asked him to sit down.

Magrum objected to Brandenburg, a resident of LaMoure County, being present at a meeting in Emmons County. But District 28, which the two men represent, is enormous and encompasses all of Emmons County and parts of LaMoure.

Magrum is also member of the Basiat Caucus of legislative Republicans, and the Bastiats have been bit of a thorn in the side of Burgum and other Republicans.

Some Basiats have been actively promoting the candidacy of Michael Coachman, Burgum's challenger for the NDGOP's nomination in his own race.

The Bastiats have backed State Auditor Josh Gallion in his recently-concluded and very high profile spat with Burgum's Commerce Commissioner, Michelle Kommer.

That letter from state lawmakers, asking Burgum to roll back his executive orders restricting economic activity during the COVID-19 pandemic? The signatories were Bastiats.

It's hard not to see this move by Burgum as a move against the Bastiat caucus.

What will be interesting is if Burgum also endorses in the contested race for the Treasurer nomination where Fargo Rep. Thomas Beadle is up against Kathryn Rep. Dan Johnston, who is also a member of the Bastiat caucus (and already enjoying the endorsement of Sen. Kevin Cramer ).


One long-time, high-profile NDGOP politico told me he expects Burgum will, though he claims no inside knowledge.

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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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