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Meet the candidate: Conservative mom, goat rancher running for District 39 House

Sentinel Butte resident Thea Lee is running for a District 39 seat in the lower house of North Dakota's Legislative Assembly. She expressed a desire to restore some level of honesty, integrity and adherence to the state’s government and Constitution.

Thea Lee
District 39 state house candidate Thea Lee is pictured.
Contributed / KBast Photography

SENTINEL BUTTE, N.D. — Thea Lee recently announced her candidacy for a House seat in North Dakota's 39th legislative district.

Lee and her husband share five children, who they’ve been homeschooling for the past 14 years. The family lives on a goat ranch near Sentinel Butte, which is south of Medora. They have about 400 goats, and she said the market for their meat is better than ever.

“It's an interesting thing. Goat meat is the most widely eaten red meat in the world. But it's just in the United States where we really like our beef,” Lee said. “With the growing ethnic populations in our country, goat meat is in really high demand.”

For 20 years, she stayed at home to operate the ranch and homeschool their kids. They recently made a change when her husband switched from a managerial position in the oilfield to a sales job that allows him to work from home. Lee is now a quality inspector at Killdeer Mountain Manufacturing in Dickinson.

She said there was a lot going on in 2020 that concerned her such as the coronavirus lockdown policies and the election that year.

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“My husband came up with this grand idea that I should run for some sort of office or get involved in government,” she said, adding that she initially scoffed at it. “I really hate presidential election years. Because I don't like it when people are mean, and I don't like it when people aren't real. I hate the idea of always having to choose the least worst option.”

But eventually, she came around after much convincing from her husband and children, getting involved by testifying at state legislative committee hearings in Bismarck. Ultimately, she decided to run for a House seat in the North Dakota Legislative Assembly, citing a desire to restore integrity in the system and reverence to our founding documents.

“We should be standing for our constitutional rights, and following our state constitution and our federal constitution,” she said. “I don't want to stand by and watch everything fall apart and then hand it off to my children.”

Protecting children

She believes safeguarding the innocence of young children from obscenity and pernicious ideologies is crucial in a virtuous society.

“That’s paramount to me. There’s a reason you protect the innocence of children. There’s a reason certain things are not taught before people are mentally capable of understanding them. So this is something I’m passionate about,” Lee said. “Obviously, the general population is too because that’s probably one of the first things people talk to me about when they know I’m running. They don’t want gender neutrality or critical race theory taught. During the last special legislative session, they did pass a bill that said you can’t teach critical race theory in K-12 schools.”

While she applauded the bill, she said that if elected she’ll act to ensure that it has sufficient enforcement mechanisms. She further explained concerns voiced to her by parents.

“However, then I have different people coming up and saying that it’s already integrated into some of the teaching materials or some of the extracurricular activities being offered in the schools. So that’s another thing that needs to be investigated,” she said.

These concerns may be warranted. For example, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds signed a similar law banning CRT in June. Yet, the conservative nonprofit Accuracy in Media recently published a video of five Des Moines area public school administrators openly explaining how they circumvented that law by simply relabeling curriculum.

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'Extremely broken system'

Lee has substantial experience working with social services in North Dakota. She and her husband were licensed foster parents for nine years, and adopted their two youngest children in the process. She worked for more than a year as a lay guardian ad litem in the juvenile court system. This is a child’s state appointed advocate tasked with investigating and compiling a report with their recommendations.

“That gave me some legal background, and so there's just a lot that needs to be worked on,” she said. “Unfortunately, it didn't take very long for me to realize that our system does not really protect the children. The laws are written to protect parental rights… Out of more than 50, I had one single parent who was actively trying to help mitigate the situation. So our system is just extremely broken and the children are the ones who are suffering.”

She believes problems with mental health care in this region are deeper than a lack of funding. Gov. Doug Burgum has signed two bills during his tenure, SB 2206 in 2017 and SB 2124 in 2019, reforming the structure of mental health funding and institutions. The new laws shifted control from the county to state level by creating 19 Human Service Zones, each with its own director. Lee argued this was counterproductive, expressing her belief in maximizing local governance and policy diffusion as much as possible.

“Golden Valley County, which has hardly any population compared to Fargo, they shouldn’t be making decisions for those two in Bismarck,” she said. “I feel like each county should be able to have the power to make decisions for themselves.”

She also expressed enthusiastic support for a law signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis last month. The bill restricts what educators can discuss with children on topics of a sexual nature, while boosting transparency requirements to keep parents informed. Lee would like to see a similar bill in North Dakota, and described some of the incidents she’s heard about from around the country as appalling.

“From my experience as a foster parent, then also being a lay guardian ad litem, there is mental, emotional and sexual abuse. And it's prosecutable. If you take young children and show them something like pornography that they are not equipped, old or mature enough to understand, that's actually prosecutable,” Lee said. “The idea that this is actually happening within an education system, a public education system, in some places in our country is absolutely astounding to me… This is not okay. Parents and other adults can get charges pressed against them for doing such a thing.”

'Blatant truths'

Lee said she spent many years on the sidelines of the political arena, but has decided to take a stand and run for office to defend what she described as sacred truths.

“These are the reasons why I decided, and my family really kind of encouraged me, is that we’ve got to stand up, speak truth and not worry about hurting someone’s feelings. Because these are blatant truths in my mind, that never should have been questioned in the first place,” she said.

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Lee was opposed to Burgum’s April 2021 veto of a bill restricting K-12 athletics to members of the same biological sex. Male and female are the only two genders, and both are completely unalterable, she said, noting that DNA blood tests confirm it.

“I have a problem with things that are not true. So you're born male or female, and your DNA says that. So I understand that it's a complicated issue for some people, but very honestly, that's a very, very tiny part of our population,” she said. “And when you're talking about legislation or policies, you just have to stand on the truth.”

Rejecting someone’s life choices is not the same as rejecting them as a person, she said, lamenting this as a dishonest conflation promulgated by many on the political left.

“Parts of our society have taken these life choices and said, 'This is now my identity. You know, I am a transgender, that’s my identity. And if you reject this idea of transgenderism, you’re rejecting me as a person.' Well, that’s simply not true,” she said. “Somebody can make the choice to drive 120 miles an hour down the highway. That's a choice. But I can say I don't think that's the greatest choice for you to make. That's a potentially destructive choice. And they don't have to feel like I have completely rejected them as a human being for doing so.”

In November, the Assembly narrowly passed and Burgum approved the creation of two sub-districts for the Turtle Mountain and Fort Berthold Indian Reservations. Lee said she would not have supported this and argued that it creates a slippery slope.

“I'm actually in opposition to that because it doesn't create equal representation for the entire population,” she explained. “My youngest daughter is a Lakota Indian. So I don't have any prejudices at all. But I think that that's a dangerous path to go down to say that they are allowed more representation than the rest of the population.”

Lee said her husband has worked for 25 years in the oil and gas industry, which she feels has been vilified by much of the media and is being treated unfairly by President Joe Biden.

“You hear President Biden say things like, he shut down the pipeline in Russia because he wanted to crush their economy. Yet, he shut down our (Keystone XL) pipeline here. It doesn't take a whole lot of brains to connect the dots and say he crushed our economy here,” she said.

If other states and localities are allowed to openly disregard federal statues on immigration and marijuana, then North Dakotans shouldn’t be hindered from maximum fossil fuel production under the draconian edicts of the Environmental Protection Agency and other federal bureaucracies, she said. Some members of the Assembly sought to address this in the past, and she hopes to collaborate with them further.

“I'm interested in finding out more about these nullification bills… (They stipulate that) if there are policies, laws or mandates passed down from the federal government that are not constitutional, then states can essentially reject those and not impose those laws upon the state because they don't follow the (U.S.) Constitution,” she said.

She also cited property rights as an important issue, expressing opposition to government use of eminent domain to build infrastructure such as roads and bridges.

To find out more about Lee’s positions, visit thealeecampaign.com or the Thea Lee Campaign Facebook page.

Jason O’Day is a University of Iowa graduate, with Bachelor’s Degrees in Journalism and Political Science. Before moving to Dickinson in September of 2021, he was a general news reporter at the Creston News Advertiser in southwest Iowa. He was born and raised in Davenport, Iowa. With a passion for the outdoors and his Catholic faith, he’s loving life on the Western Edge. His reporting focuses on Stark County government and surrounding rural communities.
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