JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Pollert vs. Becker; Pollert Wins; Luke Who?

In the end, the vote this past week to kick Luke Simons out of the North Dakota Legislature wasn’t about Luke Simons at all. It was about Chet Pollert showing Ricky Becker who’s in charge.

Pollert’s the Majority Leader in the North Dakota House of Representatives. He introduced the resolution to kick one of his own caucus members out of the Legislature for some pretty serious “conduct unbecoming a legislator,” namely sexual harassment.

That left a lot of people shaking their heads. The Carrington legislator is not exactly known as a champion of women’s rights, or someone sensitive to political correctness.

I’ve always kind of viewed him as a rough-and-tumble rural legislator, when I viewed him at all. He kind of rose to his leadership position, arguably the most powerful of all Legislators, from under the radar, although he must have done some things in his 20-year career in the Legislature to impress his colleagues enough to get them to vote him their leader.

I guess I didn’t expect someone with a 92 percent approval rating from the NRA and 76 percent from the American Conservative Union, but just a 33 percent approval rating from the North Dakota Women’s Network, to lead the charge in a sexual harassment case, seeking to expel a member of his own party from the Legislature. But that’s what happened this past week, and he prevailed. Not only did he get two-thirds of the members of the House of Representatives to vote with him, but he got two-thirds of his own party members to vote to expel one of their own, the first time in state history that’s happened.

I grew up in politics watching Earl Strinden exercise power almost never challenged in a leadership role in the Legislature, but Pollert’s move last week was at least as powerful as anything I ever saw Earl do. Who’d have guessed that?

In the end, Simons was just the foil. Becker and his so-called Bastiat Caucus, a bunch of mostly right-wing nutcases who are living proof that one-party government is not good for any state, because people get elected who should never have been elected, but for a lack of competition from a party so lackluster it can’t even find candidates to run against them, have been a royal pain in the ass to Pollert the last couple sessions.

Pollert saw the Simons case as a chance to slap them down good and proper. He knew they’d line up in Simons’ (and Becker’s) camp. He obviously did a pretty careful count before he introduced the resolution and managed the floor effort that sent Simons packing. He held the loyalty of 55 of his 80 caucus members, plus, of course, he got the votes of the 14 Democrats (you read that right — the North Dakota House of Representatives is comprised of 80 Republicans and just 14 Democrats) for a final vote of 69-25, comfortably above the two-thirds vote needed to get the job done.

I watched the whole debate on my computer at home. The only suspenseful moment came on the first recorded vote, on an amendment proposed by the Bastiats to change the resolution from expulsion to censure. OK, I thought, we’re going to find out just how big a gamble Pollert was taking. I don’t recall the exact vote, but it was pretty close to the final vote on expulsion, with Becker’s gang voting against Pollert’s caucus. Pollert won.

There were a couple of more amendments proposed, with voting along the same lines, before they voted to kick Simons out.

Most telling was that even Simons’ supporters made no effort to defend him. The usual cast of characters — Becker, Magrum, Jones, Hoverson, Koppelman, Ruby — all got up, some several times, to complain that Simons was being convicted without “due process.” I’ve never heard the words “due process” used so many times in one two-hour period.

The final words, before a silly plea by Simons, came from Rep. Dan Ruby, a Minot garbageman when he’s not in the Legislature, who rambled on about how guilty Simons was but that he at least deserved an “investigation.”

Convicting Simons of the charges against him, Ruby said, “In my company we don’t tolerate this kind of activity … I don’t think we should here either … but we didn’t have an investigation …. no proper process …” Ruby suggested that maybe the House  needed to take a different level of punitive action, that maybe the charges only warranted removal from committees. And so, he said, he was going to vote against expelling Simons.

At the end, Simons gave the last speech before they voted to expel him and didn’t do himself any favors. He was reduced to a whining, sniveling little boy, who made some rambling remarks that, given these would be his last words as a legislator, he should have prepared a little better.

“Maye we should have a hearing … wouldn’t that be awesome … I’m not calling anybody a liar … let’s have fun … let’s open this up … I don’t want any deals at all … all I want is a hearing … if you guys want to expel me on hearsay evidence … I want the truth to come out …”

FUN, Luke? FUN? You think it was FUN for those abused women to stand up and talk about their experience? You really do deserve to be sent to your corner in Dickinson, a forever timeout, never to be seen here again.

And then there was some inane babble comparing himself to King George, being “guilty by accusation.” I’m not sure if he was referring to the accusations made against England’s King George V by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence or not, but I don’t know a whole lot of British history or much about all the other King Georges. I think I’ll go with Jefferson on that one.

All in all, it was a dark day in the North Dakota Legislature. But it was a red letter day for Chet Pollert. He picked a fight. He picked the right time to have it. He had the perfect foil. And he won. He emerged a strong leader, with the respect of two-thirds of his caucus. And, albeit a bit begrudgingly, from the Democrat members as well.

The loser was Becker, although he doesn’t seem to have much shame and will likely to continue to be a thorn in Pollert’s side, and in the side of much of the North Dakota Republican Party. There’s a gaggle of unsophisticated right-wingers in the party who need a leader who looks like he belongs in a suit, with a slicked-back coiffure, and Becker fits the bill. I expect he’ll keep pushing forward, looking for a more prominent office than state legislator. I’ve never met him, but I used to play a lot of golf with his dad, and I can tell you, this is one apple that fell a long ways away from the tree.

I’d be surprised if Pollert has any further ambitions. He’s certainly cemented his position as the leader of the legislative wing of the Republican Party though, and he earned some more respect with this gambit. Even from me.

Luke who?

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