TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — The Problem Is Not Our Part-Time Legislators

“Of course, I’m just a wild-eyed liberal,” I said sarcastically during a conversation with a conservative friend one day. “No, you’re a moderate,” she said. “You just seem liberal in McIntosh County.”

Perhaps so. On social issues, I think government ought to stay out of the bedroom, doctor’s offices and out of our personal lives in general. I don’t believe laws should be religiously based but should pragmatically consider the potential harm of one’s actions to others.

I’m fiscally conservative. By that, I mean, I want expenditures to be investments in infrastructure, education and health care that create a better, more-efficient society, investments that pay off, not just economically — and that’s important — but also by simultaneously improving our quality of life.

Philosophically, that’s where politics come in. We task elected officials with representing our wishes, to deliver the services we as citizens seek. If the majority thinks education and health care should be basic rights, it’s on our elected officials to deliver them while navigating opposing views. Democracy is built on the art of compromise. Sometimes half a loaf is enough. We sometimes forget that we all want what’s best for America, we just may disagree on the path forward.

Moderate Democrats represent my philosophies best, and I’ll support them, but the decrepit state of the Democratic Party in North Dakota means my choices are usually between moderate Republicans and those who represent a more extreme brand of conservative politics like the Bastiat Caucus.

Their numbers are small; they’ve managed only to disrupt while accomplishing little. State Auditor Josh Gallion, however, has made an impact, aggressively investigating various state departments, revealing corruption and bureaucratic sloth. He takes it too far sometimes but serves as a counterweight to a supermajority that’s gotten more arrogant and corrupt as their power’s increased.

There’s the unprosecuted coverup regarding former Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s deleted emails and the possibly related $1.7 million cost overrun on office space involving his former campaign treasurer, Rep. Jason Dockter. The lack of regulation and prosecution of oil companies that pump and leak sludge into the ground and toxins into the air. Gov. Doug Burgum used millions of COVID relief funds to clean up “orphaned” wells, bailing out oil interests instead of helping citizens. And when voters approved of an Ethics Commission as a watchdog, the Legislature refused to fund it adequately.

On a national level, sign me up for term limits. We’ve got epic stagnation and corruption with a millionaire Congress. Our system wasn’t intended to have professional politicians whose only interest is getting re-elected — doing and saying whatever they must — as illustrated in North Dakota by Sen. John Hoeven and Rep. Kelly Armstrong’s continued support for a man who planned to overturn an democratic election to remain in power.

I draw the line there. I’ll never support anyone who doesn’t support democracy and the U.S. Constitution, anyone who supports the leader of an insurrection. If we abandon the basic framework of our republic, we’ve tragically lost our way.

However, I can’t support the Bastiat’s Measure 1 on term limits because it’s self-serving. They believe it’s the only way they can crack the stronghold of establishment Republicans, and if they did, I believe we’d get worse government.

In my perfect world, we’d elect more Democrats because every major gain for working families, from workers’ rights, civil rights, women’s equality, Medicare and Social Security, has come from Democrats. But I don’t believe the problem in our state is with part-time Republican legislators. This measure, in this political climate, I fear, would do more harm than good.

I miss my Republican friend Billy Kretschmar who served District 28 for decades and was always open to a reasonable conversation. Today, Republicans Sen. Robert Erbele and Rep. Mike Brandenburg represent my fiscal interests pretty well. They’re reasonable and accessible. Beyond voting the party line on intrusive busy-body social issues, they deliver the  funding for education and infrastructure that allows my local government to keep taxes down.

Democratic philosophies better represent my overall beliefs but until the party rebuilds, my reality is that I live in a very conservative district in a very conservative state. I’ll take my half a loaf. I’ll support Democrats when I can and work with Republicans because they represent the majority.

Consolidated powers get extreme, and extremism is anathema to democracy. Our state government lacks vision; we could do much more to attract and retain higher education students and workers. We have the bankroll to do it, but lack political will.

The Bastiats are not the answer but political diversity — checks and balances — better serve all interests. Take me back to the time when Tip O’ Neill and Ronald Reagan could be personal friends and political opponents.

© Tony Bender, 2022

One thought on “TONY J BENDER: That’s Life — The Problem Is Not Our Part-Time Legislators”

  • DINA BUTCHER November 5, 2022 at 7:33 pm



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