Port: When politicians take taxpayer dollars for themselves, they have to answer questions about it
There is nothing wrong with a business owner taking a PPP loan. There is something wrong with a politician taking a loan and then refusing to answer questions about it.
MINOT, N.D. — When is a question an attack?
When the politician it's asked of doesn't want to answer it.
So it goes with Rep. Rick Becker , a self-described "rising national star of the freedom movement" (stop laughing) who took a quarter-million in taxpayer-backed Paycheck Protection Program loans and now doesn't want to talk about them.
Yesterday I wrote about Becker ignoring multiple inquiries about these loans — have they been paid back? have they been forgiven? — in the context of his decision to sell some of his businesses. In response, Becker wrote a column for the Dickinson Press that was prompted by " strident attacks on me for taking PPP loans for my businesses."
Becker expends a great deal of tedious prose in that column on his way to not answering the questions about his loans. His intent was not informing the public, including his constituents in his Bismarck-area district, as to the specifics of the money he took from them, but rather a crude exercise in playing the victim card.
Poor Rick Becker, who took a heaping helping of other people's money, now is asked to answer a couple of perfectly reasonable questions about it.
What a tragedy.
The questions are reasonable. Becker is an elected official. His business dealings are newsworthy. All the more so when they involve an enormous amount of taxpayer dollars.
We cannot ignore Becker's ideology, either. He stands himself up as a fierce opponent of big government. A dogged critic of excessive economic interventions. The man — and I'm not making this up, I have photographic proof — has an Ayn Rand quote on the sign in front of the building he owns in Bismarck that houses his surgical practice.
Who is John Galt?
Not Rick Becker.
What did Rand have to say about government bailouts? A lot. Here's an example: "[G]overnment ‘help’ to business is just as disastrous as government persecution, and that the only way a government can be of service to national prosperity is by keeping its hands off," she wrote in a book she co-authored with former chairman of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan.
(Ironically, the Ayn Rand Institute also took a PPP loan . You can't make this stuff up.)
Let's get back to North Dakota.
Though Becker refuses to answer questions about whether or not the PPP loans he took out were forgiven or repaid, we may have an answer from the internet. According to this database of PPP loan information, based on data pulled from the Small Business Administration , three of Becker's loans totaling more than $175,000 were forgiven on Jan. 8, 2021.
A fourth loan for the hospitality businesses, for $80,373 , still seems to be active.
I'd like to confirm those figures with Becker but, as you know, he's not willing to talk about it outside of whinging missives published for the benefit of his fan club.
Which is the problem at the heart of this kerfuffle.
Becker taking PPP loans is perfectly defensible, though it's on him to describe how they fit in with his Randian view of the role of government.
Millions of business owners like Becker took those loans. The early weeks and months of the pandemic were a terrible time. A truly emergent situation. I don't begrudge anyone taking advantage of what was made available. But elected officials have an obligation to be transparent with the public when it comes to their business dealings and how those dealings relate to their espoused views on government.
Becker, like many politicians, doesn't agree with that.
He has developed a modest following for himself with his low-rent TV show and prolific meme-based Facebook meanderings and feels his only obligation is to them. But those people aren't who he was elected to represent.
The voters didn't cast their ballots for President of the Rick Becker Fan Club. They were voting for a representative from District 7 in the state assembly.
Getting elected to a position like that comes with some basic responsibilities, and among them is being responsive to reasonable inquiries, even from critics, and not reacting them to with a mewling retreat into an echo chamber of supplicants and sycophants.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org .