SUBSCRIBE NOW Just 99¢ for your first month

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Port: Nobody wants to be the king of the clowns

Rep. Rick Becker was left with few good options. The ranks of his allies have been thinned, he's alienated vast swaths of his own political party, he's earned the enmity of leaders in the state's medical community, and the Trump-driven political shift that fueled his metamorphosis from thoughtful libertarian into a populist culture warrior isn't aging well. Who can blame him for opting out?

RICK BECKER
State Rep. Rick Becker, a Republican from Bismarck, speaks at the 2016 NDGOP state convention in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Forum Communications Co.
We are part of The Trust Project.

MINOT, N.D. — Wednesday evening I got word from my sources in legislative District 7 that state Rep. Rick Becker, the founder of the Bastiat Caucus wing of the North Dakota Republican Party, wouldn't be seeking re-election to his seat this cycle.

I was told he wouldn't be on the ballot at all for any race.

Later in the evening, Becker made that news official with an announcement to the dozens tuning into his local television show.

The activists in the Bastiat wing of the NDGOP, who have been fanning the flames of division in North Dakota's dominant political party for some time, will insist that they have the momentum. That they represent true Republicanism, as opposed to all those Republicans In Name Only, and are poised to take over.

Becker's decision to retire from elected office tells us a different story.

ADVERTISEMENT

I can't say I'm surprised at the development.

I argued that the writing was on the wall for Becker's political career two weeks ago.

Let's consider the situation he finds himself in.

This spring the Bastiats attempted to organize a takeover of the NDGOP's district-level leadership. They threw everything they had at the effort, and got almost nothing for it .

Redistricting wasn't kind to Bastiat lawmakers. People such as Sen. Jason Heitkamp, Rep. Mike Schatz, Rep. Terry Jones, Rep, Gary Paur, Rep. Kathy Skroch, Rep. Sebastian Ertelt and Rep. Jeff Magrum saw their district lines redrawn in ways that diminish their chances of re-election.

The Bastiat ranks will almost certainly be diminished when the Legislature's 2023 session convenes.

MORE FROM ROB PORT
For all the Sturm und Drang from lawmakers over Burgum supposedly violating the "separation of powers" by meddling in legislative races, they couldn't muster enough votes to even put some reporting requirements on committees like Burgum during their session last year.

A publicity stunt at a recent meeting of the NDGOP's state leadership fizzled when some Bastiat-aligned district chairs marched out of the room in protest of proposed rule changes to the party's endorsement process. Few joined them , and the Bastiats ended up standing outside the meeting in the cold while the rest of the party went about its business inside.

When the NDGOP picked a new chair last year, they didn't choose Bob Wheeler , an outspoken anti-vaxxer and Facebook keyboard warrior who had the backing of the Bastiat wing.

ADVERTISEMENT

Meanwhile, Becker was facing a challenge to his endorsement for re-election on the NDGOP ticket by a leader of his own district party. Retha Mattern, the vice-chair of the District 7 Republican Party, announced a campaign for the House before Becker , the incumbent.

I don't have to tell you, dear readers, that a party leader challenging their own incumbent is not something that happens very often.

On a professional level Becker, a plastic surgeon by trade, is now facing calls for action against his medical license because of his pandering to anti-vaxxers and COVID-19 conspiracy theorists. While I think such an action would be a mistake , there's little doubt in my mind that the criticism factored into Becker's decision to give up his political career.

3103803+rick becker 1.jpg
Rep. Rick Becker R-Bismarck, listens to testimony in the House Transportation Committee on Friday, Jan. 20, 2016.
Photo by Will Kincaid / Bismarck Tribune

Becker was left with few good options. The ranks of his allies have been thinned, he's alienated vast swaths of his own political party, he's earned the enmity of leaders in the state's medical community, and the Trump-driven political shift that fueled his metamorphosis from thoughtful libertarian into a populist culture warrior isn't aging well .

Who can blame him for opting out?

As for what's next, I've had many speculate that Becker will attempt to lead his movement as a political pundit.

Color me dubious.

The ratings for his television show are so low they're difficult to measure through the traditional surveys, and his digital audience doesn't seem much larger. On Facebook, his videos garner maybe a few hundred views per episode . The last episode he put on the show's YouTube channel garnered seven views after more than a week online.

ADVERTISEMENT

You read that right.

Seven.

There's a video of a guy farting on a snare drum that has almost 9,000 views.

I'd be surprised if Becker was still doing his television show a year from now.

It would shock me if he were a relevant figure in North Dakota politics at all.

We have a long way to go yet, but I suspect his decision not to run for the Legislature is the first sign that the Trump-era of politics in North Dakota, for all its sound and fury, is coming to an end.

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 rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
What to read next
Get informed about the threats at events this week.
Five years ago, Inka Mathew felt a tug on her heart from God after she learned from a friend that Houston is a big hub for human trafficking. A freelance graphic designer, Mathew said God pulled on her heart to use her talents to help fight the slave trade, and the small business 139Made was born.
Affidavits filed by law enforcement officials seeking search warrants in the investigation into a robbery and assault incident targeting Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney's son give a clearer picture of the incident.
Robert Wheeler, a political activist who campaigned for chairman of the North Dakota Republican Party last year, pleaded guilty to criminal vehicle injury, as well as a disorderly conduct charge.