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Tony J Bender

Tony Bender is a writer from rural Venturia, N.D. He is the publisher of the Ashley (N.D.) Tribune and the Wishek (N.D.) Star. He has written a weekly column, That's Life, for 25 years, which is published by various papers. He has published two novels and three collections of his columns.

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Kevin Cramer: Arbiter Of Truth

As a member of the Drive-By, Fake News, Pinko, Socialist, Leftist, Apologist, UnAmerican, Blame-America-First, Liberal Media, I have been checking my mailbox for the interrogation letter U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., sent out the other day to suspected enemies of the state — you know, ABC, CBS and NBC. He is concerned about the liberal slant of facts.

Kevin, he’s a stickler for truth, justice and the American Way. He can leap tall tales in a single bound. It’s nice to see the congressman managed to fit some censorship in between the arduous task of defending Sean Spicer and Hitler. As I understand it, on Cramer’s Scale of Evil, Hitler is No. 3 and Assad No. 2, with The Media being The Evilest at No. 1. Cue “We Are the Champions.”

Don’t get me wrong, Cramer is all about freedom of information — as long as it means freedom to peruse your personal Internet search history. Technically, it may not have been free. He’s received $71,750 from the communications industry. Sen. John Hoeven received $28,500, but he has not come out in support of Hitler, which makes it a better-than-average day for North Dakotans.

Cramer, like most Republicans these days, is anti-regulation. But while he wants to dispense with FCC privacy rules, he thinks they ought to keep a close eye on journalists saying anti-Republican stuff — which is the same as saying anti-American stuff.

It’s sad when the Russians are more supportive of President Trump than the liberal media. Clearly, the right thing to do is investigate the real Commies — journalists. Grab ’em right by the AP Stylebook. Roll over Edward R. Murrow and tell Tchaikovsky the news.

I’m feeling left out. Am I not liberal enough to get a letter? Where the heck is my Che Guevara T-shirt? Do I have to start driving a Prius?

Tragically, the only thing in my mailbox today was a letter from Blue Cross denying a claim, along with a premium increase. Also, a special offer from an optometrist. I find the fine print to be psychological warfare. Like when Beltone calls and whispers into the phone.

There are reports even Fox News got a letter from Cramer. But who knows for sure? The only sources I trust are Facebook, Twitter, and Strawberry Meidinger.

Fox getting a complaint about liberal bias is a little like putting a cop in the lineup, as witnesses try to identify the chainsaw killer. It’s about, umm, the appearance of fairness, which of course, nobody really wants — which is why the cop is in uniform.

Meanwhile, the chainsaw killers at Fox are far too busy these days fending off lawsuits and chasing female members of their “All Aryan, All the Time” staff to craft any meaningful reply to any letter other than, “Delivery of this $14 million check does not imply guilt or indicate wrongdoing on the part of any employee of Fox News.” We pay. You decide. To keep quiet. And by the way, nice butt.

If you visit Fox News on any given day, it will look like an adaptation of “Dead Poets Society.” But I’ll warn you that while you’re on top of the desk — swatting at gropers clawing at your ankles — saying, “Captain, my captain,” it only encourages Bill O’Reilly. You’d have to go to an airport to get felt up like that. At least there, they drag you off the plane and not into a broom closet.

You family-values conservatives in shock over this must have missed the memo on O’Reilly’s last sexual harassment case involving dirty talk about a loofa sponge. Nice going, Sponge Bill No Pants. All I’ll say is if O’Reilly and Roger Ailes ever get the hots for one another, everyone is going to forget about Barry Manilow.

Where were we? I struggle with focus and retention. Something to do with the ’70s. Or the ’80s. One of those. Possibly both. All I’ll say is I supported Measure No. 5. Or NBo. 6. Whatever it was. Look, a squirrel!

I remember … I was praising Kevin Cramer. I fully support his effort to rein in journalists and their pesky facts.

I would like to add, “I’m proud to be an American, where (at least) I know I’m free.” America is so bigly great again.

© Tony Bender, 2017

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Searching For Humor

What the hell. What am I supposed to do with this mess?

I try. I look out at the world, read the news and try to find the bright side. When someone pees in my cornflakes I say, “That’s all right, I don’t like cornflakes, anyway.” But when in Russia, do as the Russians do.

I don’t actually hate cornflakes. I’m more or less neutral. Like Sweden. Or Heidi Heitkamp. It’s hard to get passionate about corn flakes. In fact, that was the whole point of corn flakes.

Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, the Seventh-Day Adventist who created cornflakes, did so as a cure for the “solitary vice.” On this topic, the Catholics are in agreement. If the Lutherans ever stop drinking beer, we’ll ask them, too.

“You’ll go blind,” people warned us when we were kids. “It makes hair grow on your palms,” Ricky Head announced in study hall one day and without a hint of irony, every one of us inspected our hands. When I look at Stevie Wonder, I think, “It’s his own damn fault.” Helen Keller was way out of control.

Kellogg was against sex altogether. I’m not good at math, but if cornflakes get trendy, I don’t think it bodes well for the species. I’m pretty sure cornflakes killed the dinosaurs.

We’re on the ropes, anyway. Apparently, some people think we aren’t overheating the climate fast enough. The future is coal. And black lung. Others are juggling nuclear weapons and foreign policy with the acumen of a $25 birthday party clown. Who hired John Wayne Gacy? Oh wait, that’s his real hair.

There are things you can try to spice up your love life. Yohimbe, Horny Goat Weed, ginseng or a Porsche. I’m not sure a jacked-up pickup with straight pipes impresses anyone with teeth, but it scares the deer off the road.

Cornflakes are a bad bet. I suppose you could try luring someone over to your apartment with the promise of Netflix and cornflakes. It’s probably never been tried.

After I read the history of cornflakes — clearly, I have too much time on my hairy hands — I began to resent corn growers. Geez, folks, plant soybeans. Don’t be a prude. Every time I drive by a cornfield, I think, “They must be Seventh-Day Adventists.”

The last thing we need is more cornflakes. Or Rice Krispies, unless it involves melted marshmallows. That’s a whole ‘nother deal.

Writing is like baking. Taking life’s bland or overlooked ingredients and making something tasty out of them. But I can’t find much humor in this week’s ingredients. Mostly irony.

We’ll use a missile strike to avenge the use of chemical weapons because we have rules for war. It’s not so much that we’re against killing, it’s about methodology. We’ll drag you to Nuremberg, if you kill in an uncivilized fashion.

You can do it in a uniform, but you can’t do it in a clown suit. Beheading is bad, a drone strike is civilized. Euthanasia is wrong. Lethal injection is humane.

Some people are OK with Muslims drowning, as long as they don’t wash up on our shores because of our strict new immigration policies. Some believe if we’re going to pollute the oceans, it should be with oil and plastic. At least corpses are biodegradable.

Some want to pollute more because it will be good for the economy. Especially for doctors specializing in respiratory diseases. Who needs lungs?

Others say every fertilized egg is a child of God but are against universal health care. It’s about principles, not life expectancy.

Jesus demanded a co-pay and a deductible from every leper. The whole Blue Cross deal started with him. It’s in the Book of Job, as in, “Thou shalt gettest thee a Job, thy welfare queens with thy Obama phones — and buyeth thine own insurance, while thou art at it. Cursed be the losers.” Amen.

Many have curious notions about freedom, too. They want to inspect your bedroom, your bathroom and your ISP. Otherwise, everyone would be walking around with hairy palms. There are rules for war and sex.

Some weeks, you search for humor and find only irony.

© Tony Bender, 2017

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — The Sanctity Of Life And Tax Cuts

I’m exhausted from winning so much. America is so great again. Stop it already. My trophy case is full.

Sure, a lot of people think the House of Representatives didn’t have the votes to pass health care reform last week, but when you factor in the Electoral Collage, it was a huge win. Yuuuge.

You should have seen everyone coming out to celebrate. It was biggly bigger than the inauguration, which had more people there than actually exist — if you factor in visitors from other planets. Most of them from Uranus. We should deport them.

Check the satellite imagery we got from the Klingons. There are bodies everywhere. Hold it, they’re not moving! We must have time-traveled to the near future to a time after the Republicans fixed health care. If the Rev. Jim Jones was alive and in Congress, he’d be heading up health care reform. (Insert your own Kool-Aid reference. Must I do everything around here?)

The point is, trillions of people showed up to celebrate health care reform. Trillions. That’s even after you deduct 10 Russians — and counting. That Vlad — doing his part for population control.

“It is a missed opportunity to save the American people from the death spiral of this very flawed law,” said North Dakota Congressman Kevin Cramer, deeply regretting he was unable to save 24 million Americans from being insured. Everyone knows health insurance is a death sentence, and freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

The Republicans have been offering up swing-bed foreplay for seven years: “When we get back in power, we’re going to be so good to you. It’s gonna be the best ever. Gonna rock your world, baby. Anthony Weiner’s got nothing on us.” Now, after seven years of steamy talk about co-pays, here comes the booty call and … pfffffffft! Ironically, under their plan, Viagra isn’t covered. But then again, neither is Planned Parenthood, so it’s a wash. After strutting around all this time like Mick Jagger in Spandex, it turns out the bulge was a handgun.

Meanwhile, in Bismarck, you can’t wear jeans on the Senate floor, but I think a heater is OK. Conservative priorities. They’re only temporarily pro-life. If it involves life expectancy or gun control, all bets are off — unless Al Carlson gets his casinos built. For the first time at the Capitol, being Sergeant at Arms really means something. Jesus once said, “Blessed are the marksmen.” And everyone knows God wrote the Second Commandment to the Constitution.

Janne Myrdal keeps a Glock in her chastity belt. And a Ruger. And curiously, some guy named Jake. He’s either from NRA or State Farm. I’m not sure if he does health insurance, though.

SIDEBAR: I once knew a girl from Zap, N.D., whose Mossberg got the clap. (If you’re still feeling Irish, insert limerick here.) Don’t worry, it was covered under Obamacare.  Her over-and-under was cured with antibiotics. In the future, you’ll have to rely on leeches and a prayer chain.

The point is, Sen. Myrdal is a great American. She’s got an entire arsenal in there. It’s a yuuuge chastity belt. It’s like the Grand Canyon. When you yodel, it echoes forever. There’s so much chastity in there. Don’t confuse it with the sanctimony. I think I see Jesus in the corner. He’s holding a Beretta.

I’m going to drop some 9mm cartridges in the collection plate on Easter Sunday. I think there should be a service the night before, too. A Saturday Night Special.

I’m puzzled the family-values folks couldn’t rally people around the idea of raising the cost of premiums and deductibles, cutting coverage and giving tax breaks to oppressed millionaires. Is this even America anymore? It’s sad when the Russians are more effective in our political process than Congress. Soon we’ll have a borscht stand at every casino.

Now, that we’ve won at health care reform, we’re moving on to tax reform to save the Koch Brothers from having to eat the cheap caviar. You can see millionaires on every street corner holding signs in their tattered tuxedos: “Will contribute to your campaign for tax breaks.”

Who knew health insurance could be so complicated? Oh, and being president is hard. It really messes with your golf swing. Though it’s not being reported by the lame stream, drive by, irrelevant, fake news media, it wrecks havoc on your basketball game, too. President Trump is throwing up so many bricks, he may have to join a union. The International Brotherhood of Tweeters?

Unlike the guy he subbed in for, he can’t go to his left worth a damn, and he keeps arguing with the referees. To be fair, he is a prolific dribbler, which is why Melania is sleeping alone. Who wants to sleep on the drool spot? Anyway, the president is busy spooning with Putin.

Fear not. You’re in good hands. (Does Allstate still do do health insurance?) Small hands, but good hands. The best. Believe me. Winning. We haven’t won like this since, like, ever. It’s like Charlie Sheen is president.

© Tony Bender, 2017

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — My Appliances Are Against Me

I just realized my microwave popcorn is actually popping out Morse code — in Russian.

If I’m translating correctly and, admittedly, my decoding skills are rusty, Pootie wants me to drop some d-CON into someone’s latte. Or maybe the word is DEFCON. I may have missed a dot or a dash. Probably no big deal. Po-tay-toe, po-tah-toe.

I’ve become suspicious of all my appliances — even the small ones. For instance, why does my can opener rotate cans only to the right? Is it a political statement?

I suppose otherwise the people at Sunbeam would be accused of being Leftists. But, at least, we would all get our can openers for free.

Shouldn’t that be part of the social contract in America? A secure food supply … education … health care …. a dignified retirement … free can openers … and an invigorating, unnecessary war every few years, to keep poor starving, defenseless defense contractors in business?

Maybe I’m reading too much into this.

Still, when the president of the United States accuses the president of Kenya of wiretapping and Kellyanne Conway reveals that my microwave is a spy, you have to take notice.

This explains why, no matter how I set the timer, the microwave cooks everything for 19 minutes and 84 seconds. It’s killing my pot pies. As is Al Carlson.

For a long time, I thought it was me, that I was just paranoid. But the other night, I sneezed and my television said, “Gesundheit.” Which, as you know, is Russian.

I rest my case. Actually, I can’t rest my case. I’m barely 250 words into this morass and my “editor” won’t cut me any slack until I hit 600. (“It rubs the lotion on its skin.”)

And what about cell phones. Talk about a racket. We pay nosebleed fees, just so our phones can track our location. When they’re not spontaneously combusting. You know what that thing in your pocket is? (No, the other pocket. But I’m glad you’re having safe sex.) It’s evidence.

You might as well stick a microchip into my butt cheek, slap a spiked collar on my neck and call me Fido. Not that after a few beers I wouldn’t be open to that, anyway, baby.

Seriously, they should have stopped me at 250 words. I see nothing good coming out of this freedom of the press thing. Thank god, Betsy DeVos is stamping out education. In 50 years, this column will be as accessible as Morse code. Soon, I’ll need an illustrator.

Fifty years. Who am I kidding? The nuclear football is at Mar-a-Lago, in the hands of the hat-check girl. We’re doomed. I rarely hand out financial advice, but I’m solid on this one. If I were you, I’d max out the credit cards and drink like you’re Irish every day to see which lasts longer, the country or your liver.

Some people call me a cynic. A fatalist. You would be, too. Yesterday, my Roomba pulled a knife on me, and I suffered a near fatal-ankle stabbing. My car auto-started and tried to run over me. That’s still not legal, even in North Dakota. Give us time. Rome wasn’t burned in a day.

Then there’s my friend, David Rosenblum. “That ain’t nothing,” he said. ”I ate a bagel last week and today the CIA sent me the results of my colonoscopy.”

I’m not sure all this government surveillance is really necessary. After all, we already voluntarily confess everything on Facebook. In that regard, we’re all Cyber-Catholics and Mark Zuckerberg is the pope. Habemus papam! (More Russian.)

Waterboarding is so passe. All we have to do is plop the prisoner down in front of Facebook with a case of Red Bull. We’ll know everything by Thursday.

I’ll post a close up of my taco salad later. And my third selfie of the day. I am so hot. Blistering hot. My lips look like that because I just licked a lemon.

Look at my puppy. And if I had grandchildren, they would be adorable.

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Mr. Bender Goes to Bismarck

It’s almost halftime at the North Dakota Legislature, so last week I went to the state Capitol to monitor progress.

I represented The Ashley Tribune and The Wishek Star as Newspapers of the Day, a program sponsored by the North Dakota Newspaper Association to foster better relations between the press and legislators. I guess I was an ambassador of good will. Because you know how lawmakers love to talk to someone who is always abusing free speech.

The Legislature is doing its very best to get a handle on all this transparency nonsense. For instance, there’s a bill supported by former Gov. Ed Schafer that would conceal the identity of applicants for government jobs until finalists are selected. Schafer said “no one” reads newspapers anymore because they are always presenting this kind of scandalous news. Knowledge upsets people. And here you are reading the newspaper. Loser.

You could conclude that since 85 percent of state voters in the last election wanted to have their local minutes published, taxpayers are interested in seeing how their government operates. I guess those are alternative facts. We should check with Landslide Donald.

I stopped by the governor’s office, but Doug Burgum wasn’t in. They were still trying to raise bail money after Gov. Burgum was dragged off the Senate floor for wearing blue jeans. The sergeant-at-arms is originally from Wishek, but he has been in Bismarck for 50 years. When you go that long without Wishek Sausage, it makes you a little cranky.

I also stopped in to see House Majority Leader Al Carlson, a frequent guest star of these columns. But he was out, too. I did get a peek at his throne — red velvet and gold encrusted with jewels. North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness was sitting in it, reading the Oil Illustrated swimsuit edition. You can’t unsee Harold Hamm in a thong. If they ever put him in the Rough Rider Hall of Fame, though, that’s the picture they should use.

There have been some remarkable achievements in the Legislature. I would be remiss if I didn’t give credit where credit is due — to the Republicans, who have a superduper majority. There are so many Republicans in Bismarck, they almost outnumber oil lobbyists.

Meanwhile, there are old-fashioned phone booths adjacent to the Senate Chambers, which is where the Democrats caucus. These meetings are open to the public. You can even wear jeans. And Birkenstocks.

Republican caucuses are held in a top-secret location off the Capitol grounds and are closed to the public. You need a password, a secret handshake and a hotdish for the potluck. Once a month, they sacrifice a virgin. Ironically, it’s always a Republican because they are the only women of virtue.

I got to hear the virtuous Sen. Janne Myrdal speak. She was wearing a chastity belt and a halo. You’ll remember Myrdal for her heroic struggle against Gay Nazis on Facebook. If you don’t fight them on Facebook, pretty soon you’ll have to fight them on Snapchat.

I also watched the Senate vote to support a bill banning masks. But what are oil executives going to wear when they are robbing North Dakotans? While Texas and Oklahoma billionaires got a 23 percent tax break last session, citizens here are facing austerity measures.

Eight rural highway maintenance shops are slated to be closed, meaning snowplows will have to travel 120 miles to clear roads in some instances. Which is reasonable, I guess, if you don’t live there. They also plan to close nine drivers license sites. You may have to drive 200 miles to get your license, but it’s not like those are “tax dollars” you pay at the pump. It should work out fine if the roads are clear.

The party that wants smaller government also voted in the Senate to grow government with the creation of  the Orwellian-sounding “Department of Environmental Quality,” which will allow a political appointee to more easily nonregulate the oil industry. A 153-page bill was approved, unread, in a 90-minute committee meeting, with no estimate of the cost of this new department. I guess they had to pass it to know what’s in it.

Republicans are defending us (and the fossil fuel industry) against wind energy. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee is endorsing a two-year moratorium on wind energy development. The theory being that the free market works best without competition. Another bill would shift wind tax revenue from the counties to the state. So, the governor can afford some decent pants.

Thank goodness they’re standing up for the environment. Have you ever seen a wind spill? It’s ugly. They should ban solar energy, too. Because the sun is a leading cause of global warming.

Finally, thanks to GOP opposition to the overreach of the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s still legal to discriminate against “the gays” in North Dakota. However, you can’t just run them down in the street. Even if they are wearing a swastika. Because they could be a Trump supporter.

Compromise and moderation prevails, once again.

© Tony Bender, 2017

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — The Tweet Sound Of Diplomacy

I keep thinking that if Rip Van Winkle woke up this week, he’d crush up a bottle of Ambien and snort it all. It’s getting weird out there, and we’re only in the third week of America being great again.

We’ve banned, unbanned and then banned Muslims again, according to tweets from the White House. The president and his press secretary seem to have trouble sorting out exactly what it is they did. Is it a ban or is it not? Who knows? And me with a closet full of burkas. Complicating matters was an Oregon judge who suspended the “whatever it is” on constitutional grounds.

This came as quite surprise to many of us who had no idea the Constitution was still a thing. Conservatives have been insisting for years that Obama had destroyed the Constitution with his executive orders.

But with the Constitution restored, albeit streamlined, President Trump signed more executive orders last week. He’s up to 17, putting him on a pace for 565 in his first year unless impeachment or carpel tunnel sets in first. Obama managed just 276 in eight years. Underachiever. Conservatives called Obama’s executive actions tyranny. All I know is that if it was, at least we have the right kind of tyranny, now.

One executive order put Iran on Top Secret Double Probation that eventually turned into sanctions. They are largely symbolic — like they were when Dick Cheney and Halliburton continued to do business with Iran under previous sanctions. But there’s something to be said for tradition.

One of the great exchanges from the movie, “Charlie Wilson’s War”, comes from Julia Roberts, who plays a do-gooder anti-Communist, and Tom Hanks, who has the lead role.

Joanne Herring (Roberts): “Why is Congress saying one thing and doing nothing?”

Charlie Wilson (Hanks): “Tradition, mostly.”

The president trotted out in reality TV fashion, Neil Gorsuch, as a Supreme Court nominee. The Denver-based federal judge wore a T-shirt that read, “Happiness is a Warm Gun,” thereby enhancing his standing with aging rockers and Second Amendment fans.

This is far from a done deal. There’s the upcoming swimsuit competition and the “new rules” to consider. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell declared that no president should choose a Supreme Court justice in his last year in office. With Trump’s impeachment loosely scheduled for August, we need to put this on hold.

Another nominee in jeopardy is that of education secretary pick Betsy DeVos, who testified in favor of guns in public schools to protect students from grizzly bears. Proving how weird a week it was, North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp had a relapse and became a Democrat again long enough to come out against DeVos.

It might be part of the liberal “Save The Bears” agenda. Heitkamp has taken no public position on kangaroos, however, which is important since we are teetering on the brink of war with the Aussies, a longtime member of the Axis of Evil.

So far, America’s new Middle Finger Foreign Policy has addressed Iran, Australia, Russia (love them to pieces) all of Asia and Mexico. It turns out we’re actually going to pay for the wall through higher prices on food and goods coming in through Mexico. However, in return, we’ll all have jobs picking vegetables in California.

This wall — unless they decide to tunnel under it (wink, wink) — may also create a drug shortage. Again, higher prices for America’s most vulnerable — those of us who watch the nightly news.

Even if you have a prescription, in North Dakota, the Legislature — between shots of Jägermeister in the cloakroom — is busy retooling the medical marijuana bill to save the 64 percent of voters who supported it from Reefer Madness. Those in need can easily solve this by moving to Minnesota. Get a lake cabin next to your Fargo legislators.

It appears there won’t be a 5 percent tax on North Dakota nursing home residents. Budget shortfalls will be solved by furtively pushing a few wheelchairs down the stairs. Look for more of these accidents around the end of each fiscal quarter. Just heavily insure Grandma and everybody wins. Or you could just park her in the street with a NO DAPL sign as soon as they dispense with that pesky vehicular homicide overregulation.

As I approach my conclusion here, I realized I almost made it through this column without taking a shot at North Dakota House Majority Leader Al Carlson. Hey Al, Yo Mama!

Why do I do I feel the compulsion to do that, you wonder?

Tradition, mostly.

© Tony Bender, 2017

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Kretschmar On The Sidelines After 40 Years In Legislature

After serving four decades in the North Dakota Legislature, William “Billy” Kretschmar no longer has a seat in the House chambers. What the Venturia resident does have is perspective and more than a few thoughts on the state of politics today.

Kretschmar (on left in above photo), who was first elected to the House of Representatives as a Republican in 1972, as one of the few lawyers in the Legislature at that time, has seen his district expand from McIntosh and Logan counties to one that now also encompasses Emmons County and parts of Dickey, LaMoure and Burleigh counties. More land, fewer people and “a lot more cows,” he quips.

Early on, Kretschmar concentrated on restructuring a cumbersome judiciary system, as a matter of efficiency. “We have a Constitution that was written in 1889,” he said. “It needed updating.”

In the 2016 primary election, Kretschmar was the odd man out, with fellow Republicans Mike Brandenburg, R-Edgeley, an incumbent, and Jeff Magnum, R-Hazelton, a newcomer, claiming the two House seats from District 28. With the exception of a defeat in 1998, and the subsequent two-year interruption, Kretschmar, 83, had been an institution in Bismarck.

Kretschmar understood there were questions about his age. If time worked against him, it had as much to do with his shrinking base, as anything. Every funeral took a voter. But few would question the caliber of his intellect.

Former legislator Bill Kretschmar (left) with Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Kermit Bye.
Former legislator Bill Kretschmar (left) with Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Kermit Bye.

Even in a special session in 2016, his last, when a proced-ural question arose, all heads turned to Kretschmar. “As parliamentarian, he was always a stable and grounding force in his rulings,” said Rep. Andy Maragos, R-Minot. “What will be missed the most by the House is his cumulative institutional knowledge, which he made available to any member who needed the information. His absence leaves a gap that will not be filled soon.”

In North Dakota, where Republicans have solidified a supermajority with a decidedly more strident brand of conservatism, Kretschmar is a species almost as endangered as Democrats — a moderate Republican.

“I’m a Teddy Roosevelt Republican, not a Donald Trump Republican,” Kretschmar said. He supported John Kasich for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016.

Trump’s thin skin and inability to resist responding to perceived slights concern Kretschmar. “It’s not presidential,” he said.

Kretschmar was an old-school representation of the Ronald Reagan/Tip O’ Neill brand of politics. He was often the host of “Billy Club,” an after-hours gathering of legislators from both sides of the aisle, during which issues were bandied about over a few drinks and a few laughs.

Kretschmar was Speaker of the House from 1988-90. Shunning ideology, he earned a reputation for judging issues on their merit. In a political environment where moderation was painted as liberal, one fellow legislator told him, “Maybe you should have been a Democrat.”

“He was a man that anyone could work with,” said former state Sen. Joel Heitkamp, who is now a liberal radio talk show host at KFGO in Fargo. “He cares and always focused on what was right.”

Sen. Tim Mathern, D-Fargo, said, “Rep. Kretschmar is an independent thinker. Ten years ago, I sponsored a Peace Resolution in the Legislature, and he was the only Republican willing to take the risk to sign on. I recall him saying, ‘This is not difficult, we should all be for peace’.”

A District 28 colleague, Sen. Robert Erbele, R-Lehr, said, “I will be forever grateful for Rep. Kretschmar’s mentorship. I know of no one who has greater institutional knowledge of our legislative history, North Dakota’s political history, as well as knowledge of our state and national Constitutions. I have often said that traveling around the district with Rep. Kretschmar was like having a library in your car.”

Among the governors Kretschmar liked and admired most in his tenure, he mentions Republican icon Ed Schafer — no surprise, there — as well as Democrat George Sinner, a bit of a surprise, and Republican Jack Dalrymple, the beleaguered ex-governor whose legacy is intertwined with the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, perhaps the biggest surprise of all. Kretschmar served with Dalrymple in the Legislature and considers him a friend.

Kretschmar gives Dalrymple credit for not trying to forcibly remove the protesters, in what would have become a global event and a black eye for North Dakota. Kretschmar allows that criticism that Dalrymple fell short in creating a dialogue with the protest leaders has merit. By contrast, newly elected Gov. Doug Burgum met with them last week for five hours on the Standing Rock Reservation.

Kretschmar, who said he supports the right to protest, disagreed with the decision by House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, to cancel the traditional address to the Legislature by tribal leaders during the 2017 session. “I think that was wrong,” Kretschmar said. “But I always got along well with Al Carlson, even if I didn’t always agree with him. He was always good to me.”

Kretschmar likes Burgum’s chances for success. Although Burgum flanked to the right during the election, Kretschmar thinks he may prove to be a more moderate administrator.

Burgum and the Legislature have their hands full with budget woes. Kretschmar said he’s seen a 15 percent increase in his own property taxes, largely due to valuations.

Barring a miraculous increase in oil-related tax revenue, which fueled property tax relief, Kretschmar expects landowners will pay more in the near future. “You can’t keep lowering taxes and expect to keep services up,” he said.

When prices began to plummet in the last session, Kretschmar voted with the majority to effectively give oil companies a 23 percent tax break. In light of a current budget proposal that calls for a 5 percent tax increase on nursing home residents, Democrats argue Republicans care more about out-of-state oil barons than about their own constituents. It’s a fair argument, Kretschmar says, but, “At that point, I thought it was a reasonable step to ensure the viability of the oil industry.”

Kretschmar watches with interest as the Republican majority appears to be foot-dragging toward implementation of Initiated Measure No. 5, the Compassionate Care Act. It legalized medical marijuana and passed with 64 percent of the vote. Medical marijuana now has received approval in 28 states. Kretschmar says he’s a supporter of the initiated measure process and that the Legislature must respect the will of the people.

The hard swing to the right in North Dakota that mirrors President Trump’s rise to power and the hubris of the supermajority in the state Legislature has even progressive Republicans concerned, Kretschmar said, adding that a two-party system functions better with a modicum of balance.

Kretschmar can be found at The Shed Cafe in Ashley most mornings, having coffee with “the boys.” He doesn’t do much legal work these days but still maintains an office in town. Kretschmar claims he’s not stir crazy sitting back while the Legislature is in session. On the surface, he seems satisfied with his long run. “I always tried to do what was right,” he said.

If Kretschmar made enemies in doing so, they aren’t talking. “He was universally admired and respected by his House colleagues,” Maragos said.

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Taking The State Back

You are being rescued. Republican state legislators are taking North Dakota back.

From themselves.

In the immortal words of Stevie Wonder, who used to be a legislator from District 28, “Don’t you worry ’bout a thing, Pretty Mama.” And let me tell you, Al Carlson, another blind legislator, hates being called Pretty Mama. The mama part, anyway.

There’s a lot of stuff to straighten out. Like getting those lazy, no-good, slothful elderly in their palatial nursing homes to pick up the tab for the tax break Republicans gave struggling oil billionaires the last go-around.

Because, really, even though those old coots helped build North Dakota, what have they done for you lately? Play Bingo and take sponge baths, that’s what. And watch soap operas on television. Like oil sands through a pipeline, so are the Days of Our Legislature.

Rep. Roscoe Streyle is doing his best to protect you from knowledge, which everyone knows has been the ruination of this country. Streyle’s bill would save oppressed oil companies from having to report contained spills less than 420 gallons. Do you know how much paper that would save? Enough to put Dunder Mifflin out of business.

Don’t you care about the environment? Save a tree, relieve some stress and pretend we don’t have any oil spills in North Dakota. And, frankly, to heck with Dunder Mifflin.

What about those lost jobs? Fear not. Pharmaceutical companies, who make a killing with blood pressure meds in North Dakota every two years, will pick up the slack.

One bill proposed by Pretty Mama would make it illegal for adults to wear masks in North Dakota. The idea is that anonymity should only be granted to law enforcement policing pipeline protests. Snowmobilers are so screwed.

What about Batman and other good guys? I would like to point out, Tonto is not the one in the mask. Somebody needs to stand up for our superheroes.

Sidebar: Has anyone ever seen the Green Hornet and Gov. Doug Burgum in the same room? I rest my case.

Make no mistake, I’d like to blame the Democrats for this mess, but they haven’t actually made it to any sessions yet because parking assignments dictated by the majority have forced them to park in Wilton and walk from there.

I know Marvin Nelson, who is getting in incredible shape — I mean, Boston Marathon condition — tried to FaceTime a vote in, only to discover Rep. Lawrence Klemin wanted him to pay $20 under proposed legislation that would require every internet device to be considered a pornographic vending machine.

That’s right, $20 per internet device if you want the racy stuff. Like news reports about the president-elect from Russia. Apparently, Klemin isn’t really against smut, he just thinks you should pay a cover charge. I think when people visit the Legislature this session, they should tuck dollar bills in Klemin’s belt for his re-election.

Although Klemin’s bill was withdrawn, until mental health cuts in North Dakota allow complete insanity to prevail, I would like clarification regarding my new web-based thermostat. While 70 degrees is OK, and 68 degrees is OK, would any number in between subject me to arrest?

As far as cutting mental health goes, feeling good is overrated. And, as any good Victorian knows, novel reading is the leading cause of mental health issues. We should burn books. Especially now, in January, when it makes the most sense.

I think medical marijuana, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters, will help the afflicted, despite the fact marijuana is a well-know gateway drug to liberalism. The next thing you know, you’re wearing jeans to work.

Thank God, Al Carlson is doing his level best to study the heck out of the medical marijuana issue for the 64 percent of people who didn’t know what they were voting for. He and some other legislators have set up a lab in the fourth stall in the unisex bathroom with a damp towel under the door. It’s a bipartisan effort because none of the Republicans knew how to work a bong. Send more Oreos and Pink Floyd albums. They want to get this right. Don’t look for that to happen anytime soon.

On the bright side, I think we’ll gain an hour after they tackle the pressing issue of Daylight Saving Time, which Sen. Dave Oehlke wants to dispense with in North Dakota. Great. And, when they’re done with that, maybe they can move the calendar out of the 1950s.

Until then, we’re keeping “the gays” in their place. The Senate last week voted down legislation to update state law with gender-neutral language to reflect same-sex couples’ constitutional rights. Sen. Janne Myrdal said the whole silly notion would serve to diminish the honor and sacredness of marriage. Everyone knows that for every same sex union, four out of five straight couples divorce. No, hold it. That’s the number of dentists who approve of Crest.

There is no reason to complicate things with humanity. Status quo is perfect for North Dakota. As I’m sure Sen. Myrdal would agree, the Dark Ages weren’t all that bad.

© Tony Bender, 2017

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Pipeline Media

If you’ve been following news coverage about the pipeline, stop it right now.

Especially if you’re watching national and international news. What do professional journalists know that Facebook doesn’t?

Now that the Army Corps of Engineers has denied permission to cross Lake Oahe, north of Standing Rock, based on foolish environmental concerns and a flawed process, some suggest the protesters had it right all along.

But that runs contrary to every preconceived notion I hold dear.

They’re making it sound like ruthless government powers and oil companies set attack dogs on people, hosed them down in frigid conditions, turned them into tear gas-flavored Popsicles and took batting practice on them with billy clubs.

Some people call them batons, like they’re leading a parade in fringed unitards.

I’ll admit, it does sound less threatening. But is anyone ready for Cass County Sheriff Paul Laney in Spandex? I’m still adjusting to the Darth Vader helmet. Really, fashion has clashed more at the protest site than people.

Thing is, the elitist liberal media is making it sound like our stalwart leaders care more about out-of-state oil billionaires than they do about out-of-state liberal hippies, who have flocked here to bask in our legendary winters. Of course, they’re paid to be here. Everyone says so, so it must be true.

Liberals don’t have convictions. I won’t even bend down to pick up a dollar bill. A ten, maybe. But the out-of-state construction workers and attack dog handlers? They would do this for free. Especially the attack dog handlers.

Were our officials really going to starve the illegal, unlawful protesters out, like Reuters reported? Nonsense, said Gov. George Armstrong Dalrymple, during a news conference to stop the rumor his people started.

Not only are they not going to starve Indians, which would be unprecedented, the governor thought during his final month in office, he could find some time to talk with the tribe. You know, see what’s shaking.

Somebody get the Rolodex. The Capitol is still in lock-down but oozing humanity these days.

Because bad press makes it sound like officials were acting like a bunch of dicks, Morton County created a media division, with a variation of “America’s Funniest Home Videos,” starring Sheriff Laney as the Riot Whisperer. Mark Ruffalo was busy.

There Laney is, in a Darth Vader helmet, standing majestically, but modestly, in front of a roll of razor wire, talking smack to hippies. A bit of advice, Paul: Have them video you from a lower angle, so you look more imposing. It will be easier to get the helicopter in the frame. Also, tell your makeup people to go easy on the rouge. For God’s sake, lay off the glitter on your cheeks. If you win an Emmy (or an Oily), make sure to thank me. On camera.

Because Shailene Woodley is still in the Morton County Correctional Institute for Babes, two female deputies got the starring roles in the next video. Good strategy. Jail the competition. Trump’s Amerika.

The deputies recounted a harrowing tale of protesters throwing snowballs. Then protesters made snow angels. And a snowman! Really. Assault with a deadly Frosty. Chilling.

The best video was one of Laney, co-starring Mandan Police Chief Jason Ziegler, when they got into a dispute at a restaurant because protesters wouldn’t pass the vinaigrette. It went virus.

You know the part where Ziegler stood up — holy crap! — and towered menacingly, while serving and protecting his salad? That’s the angle I’m talking about, Paul. I’m still shaking. This pair of underwear is done for. But I’m against you guys on this one. Vinaigrette has oil in it. I feel all of this could have been avoided by compromising on Blu Cheese.

Another video featured “Aww Shucks” Laney, who avoids the spotlight at all costs, except when his country needs him. In this case, he rescued an upside down flag from a protest camp, with the help of Seal Team Elevendy-five. You just know Obama is going to claim credit for this one, too.

Again, I’m with the hippie protesters. You know what hippies do right?

Possible answers:

a. Not a damn thing.

b. Save the whales.

c. Smoke weed.

d. Smoke more weed.

The actual answer is yoga. When you’re doing the pranayama on your head, an upside-down flag is the only way to say the Pledge of Allegiance.

Some think I’m picking on Sheriff Laney. I don’t even know the guy, but someday we’ll probably share a laugh over the time he bounced a rubber bullet off my forehead — if I ever go back to cover the protest again.

Let’s call it what it is. Hero worship.

When the protesters finally cease their unAmerican exercise of civil disobedience, Paul will go back to Cass County. He’ll lead his own parade, twirling a baton. Spandex optional.

I’ll go back to my bunker and read Elmore Leonard novels. But we’ll always have Cannon Ball.

© Tony Bender, 2016

TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — Surviving Thanksgiving

I’m going to end the suspense right now. No one died from my Thanksgiving Day dinner.

I did not realize that for the many years I have been making turkeys for the holidays, I have been putting people in mortal danger. I’m probably in denial about the very real possibility there has been significant loss of life due to my recklessness. Which would explain why I no longer get Christmas cards from some people. Then again, it might just be politics.

This all started last week, when I was setting up tables and chairs and finalizing plans to host our family Thanksgiving in the repurposed Congregational Church I moved to my property several years ago. I suppose I should explain that.

Basically, I was tired of losing theological arguments — sometimes with real preachers trained in the art of hand-to-hand religion. I suppose I could have gone to seminary, but like vampires burst into flames in the sunlight or wicked witches melt, I figured I might be a victim of spontaneous combustion.

I bought my own church. I even bought the pulpit. When I need to do some parenting, I like to stand behind it and pontificate. I feel it strengthens my position. Thou shalt clean thy room.

And now, whenever I think I am losing a religious argument to someone armed with facts and historical perspective, I interrupt them. “Do you have your own church? Because I do.” End of argument, because moving a church 70 miles shows commitment.

Anyway, I have the space, and I thought I would give my Mom a break. You remember my Mom, reigning Ashley Oktoberfest Cooking Champion? So, this offer of mine was already pressure-packed. But I was confident. Because up to that point, I had no idea of the carnage I had wrought. I suppose no one ever gave me the body count. They didn’t want to hurt my feelings.

Even from 60 miles away, this thing was micromanaged from the start. I decided to do festive, but disposable, place settings, rather than drag all of that from the main house.

Then Mom called. “Did you put the turkey in the refrigerator to thaw?”

“Of course not. I’ve been thawing birds in cold water in the sink since the ’80s. Thanksgiving is four days away.”

But, she explained, as one does to the dim-witted, in short succinct sentences, that it was much safer to do it her way. She made it sound like there are hand grenades in each bird. One wrong move and ka-boom! We negotiated. She agreed to let me use sturdy plastic dinnerware, if I promised to put the turkey in the refrigerator to thaw “the right way.”

Well, I got up at 5:30 a.m. Thanksgiving Day and threw a ham into one oven and then trudged across the yard to start the turkey. (The church has a functional kitchen.)

The turkey was a brick. It might have even been more frozen! Apparently, the hunters who had rented the church earlier had cranked up the cold. But I blame my mother. None of this would have happened, if she had just let me continue my annual unintentional killing spree.

I went from despair to anger. I considered calling her at that ungodly hour to chew her out, but thought better of it. I realized she’d probably just give me more bad advice.

Meanwhile, my sister, Sherry, who is bossier than my mom, and my sister-in-law Pam, who I have nothing bad to say about because she scares me, were already contemplating the disaster that awaited them. They wondered what I would forget, or what I would burn. And about the phone number of the county coroner.

Meanwhile, I called the Butterball hot line. I never got a real answer. Just hysterical laughter. Can you cook a frozen turkey? As a matter of fact, yes. It came out a delicious brown and the meat fell off the bone. And it was done on schedule. I’d rather not talk about the giblets.

The minute Mom arrived, I lit into her, though, just as a matter of principle. Our family functions are usually combative anyway, so throwing the first punch is a widely respected strategy. I had her on her heels all day. No matter what the subject, I brought it right back to flawed turkey-thawing methods and the heroic efforts required to overcome them.

I sensed my sister hovering, looking for something to worry about. I placated her with wine.

My brother, Mike, prayed before we ate. “Please Jesus, don’t make us eat this food. Amen.”

Mom called the next day to report that the debriefing went well. Everyone was suitably impressed with my organizational and culinary skills.

Mike was still praying, though, in case of a delayed reaction. “It’s nice to meet the low bar of expectations,” I said.

The turkey soup is on simmer.

© Tony Bender, 2016