Port: Why have North Dakota's Democrats turned on public workers?

It's remarkable to watch as desperation in the Democratic-NPL drives the party to ugly political attacks that run contrary to their own stated principles.

The North Dakota State Capitol. Forum News Service file photo

MINOT, N.D. — Remember John Kerry, the perpetually befuddled milquetoast from the U.S. Senate that Democrats ran for President in 2004?

He famously tried to square his vote in favor of the use of military force in Iraq with his later anti-war campaign trail posturing by suggesting he was against the war he voted for " since day one."

Political wags took to calling this an "I was for it before I was against it" statement or a flip-flop .

That popped into my mind today when I was reading a press release, sent out by the North Dakota Democratic-NPL, griping about some pay raises given out to certain state government leaders.

Our Democratic friends like to posture themselves as the champions of public workers. Except, I guess, when taking care of public workers gets in the way of a partisan talking point.


They were for public workers before they were against them, I guess?

"As Gov. Doug Burgum has directed departments across the state to cut their budget proposals for the next biennium, the Industrial Commission – led by Governor Burgum, – also awarded significant raises to some agency heads ," their recent press release states. "The story comes not long after reports the administration awarded bonuses in an inconsistent manner."

The raises flagged are "significant" only in the loosest sense of the word. They're quite modest, ranging from 2 percent to 3.5 percent per employee.

And yes, like the bonuses for public employees the Democrats have been griping about , they happened at a time when our state government is, overall, facing cuts due to plummeting revenues.

Sometimes you have to take care of your people, even when it's not an easy thing to do.

It would be a mistake to attribute anything like thoughtfulness or reason to these talking points — let's be honest, the goal is the manufacture of headlines negative for North Dakota's Republican majority by any means necessary — but stipulating for a moment that the Democrats believe what they're arguing, what alternative are they proposing?


"Giving significant raises to a few at the top while calling for cuts across the board sends a disrespectful message to the public employees who have been doing more with less since before the pandemic," state Rep. Pam Anderson (D-Fargo) is quoted as saying in the release. "Thousands of state workers have put themselves at risk to keep North Dakotans safe. If we're going to give anyone raises it should be the people on the front lines."

If we assume the Democrats are being serious and not just engaging in the typical sort of excretory campaign season tactics we see every two years, they're proposing through Rep. Anderson's words are widespread bonuses for North Dakota public workers.

And yet, when the executive branch did just that, using a program authorized and funded by the Legislature to distribute some $625,000 in bonuses to hundreds of North Dakota workers across 25 state agencies, the Democrats and their media mouthpieces complained.

They complained again today in the press release mentioned above.

This is the political party that has long positioned themselves as the friends of public workers and teachers, and yet here they are turning widespread bonuses and pay increases into a partisan talking point as if rewarding our civil servants was somehow a bad thing.

By the way, I'm making that argument as a conservative. My default ideological position is that the government is too large and too inefficient. Still, even I understand the need to reward good workers for the sake of reducing turnover and promoting competence.

Particularly amid a pandemic which is taxing both the private and public sectors.

It's remarkable to watch as desperation in the Democratic-NPL drives the party to ugly political attacks that run contrary to their own stated principles.


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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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