Port: Legislative session has been embarrassing in the early going

The North Dakota legislature has not gotten off to an auspicious start in 2017.It started with a bit of pettiness over the governor's garb.Gov. Doug Burgum has always been known as a dress-down sort of guy. Turns out his Lt. Gov., former Watford ...

columnist Rob Port
columnist Rob Port
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The North Dakota legislature has not gotten off to an auspicious start in 2017.

It started with a bit of pettiness over the governor's garb.

Gov. Doug Burgum has always been known as a dress-down sort of guy. Turns out his Lt. Gov., former Watford City Mayor Brent Sanford, is the same way.

But lawmakers have a dress code for themselves which requires men to wear suits and ties. There has been grumbling among some over Burgum and Sanford favoring jeans.

We all have our foibles, I suppose, but this grumbling was so loud it made it into media reports. That's not ideal at a time when lawmakers are often seen as being stodgy and out of touch.


Not helping that image was the Senate's refusal to pass legislation updating state code to reflect the reality of legal same sex marriage. The proposed bill wouldn't have amended the state constitution, which thanks to a 2004 ballot initiative defines marriage as between a man and a woman, but it would have changed the dozens of mentions of marriage in statute so that the language is gender neutral.

"The proposed changes ... seem arbitrary since the North Dakota Constitution defines marriage as between one man and one woman," Sen. Janne Myrdal, a newly-elected Republican from District 10, said while carrying the Judiciary Committee's "do not pass" recommendation to the Senate floor.

"We should not redefine in statute what we have defined in the state constitution," she continued.

That's a cop out. The bill didn't redefine anything. It only changed the pronouns and other language used to describe marriages.



Besides, like it or not, North Dakota's definition of marriage is now meaningless. The courts have defined marriage for us, and while I wish the issue had been decided by the democratic process in our state as opposed to judicial fiat, it is reality.

Our lawmakers resisting that reality, protecting the supposed sanctity of dated verbiage, makes them look small and petty.


But that is perhaps preferable to looking downright foolish, as the backers of an anti-porn bill do.

The legislation, HB1185, would have defined in the law any device through which you can access internet content as a "pornography vending machine." If passed, the bill would have made it a crime to sell these devices in our state without technology to censor "obscene" material. Those wishing uncensored access to the internet would have to pay the state $20 for the privilege.

It was an offensive proposal sponsored by Rep. Lawrence Klemin, a Bismarck Republican. It's hard to imagine how he or his bipartisan group of co-sponsors could ever have considered it serious-minded policy.

The activist who pitched Klemin on the legislation, Chris Sevier has quite a background. When I interviewed him on my radio show he claimed the bill is an effort to fight human trafficking and that it's been proposed in dozens of other states. When I voiced objection to the legislation he accused me of being a member of the "liberal media" and suggested that I condone child pornography.

Further investigation shows that Sevier has sued Apple because the tech giant didn't protect him from his own porn addiction, sued President Barack Obama over the suspension of Phil Robertson from Duck Dynasty, and attempted to marry his computer as a stunt aimed at protesting same-sex marriage.

He has also been arrested twice on stalking charges, with one incident involving country music star John Rich and the other a 17-year-old woman.

It seems Klemin and his co-sponsors got hoodwinked.

Klemin has sinced withdrawn the bill, but the damage to the public's perception of North Dakota's senators and representatives as serious-minded policymakers has been done.


Here's to hoping things improve as this session wears on.

Port, founder of, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator.

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