Port: Rick Becker didn't have the juice

In 2020, Becker was hoping a big vote for Coachman would leave Gov. Doug Burgum looking weak. It backfired.

State Rep. Rick Becker speaks to a crowd at the Astoria Hotel and Event Center in Dickinson on Saturday. (Press Photo by Dustin Monke)

MINOT, N.D. — There is no doubt that on election night in North Dakota, the biggest loser was the Democratic-NPL.

The party saw every single one of its statewide candidates get slaughtered, and their already mingy minority in the Legislature taken down a notch from "they couldn't possibly do any worse" to "oh, wait, yes they can."

The lawmakers for the Democratic-NPL were already having problems filling minority party committee assignments in Bismarck. Now, based on the unofficial results, they're down three more senators and at least one more representative.

But giving the Democrats a run for their money in the biggest-loser-of-the-night race was state Rep. Rick Becker and his Bastiat Caucus. They were out for revenge on Gov. Doug Burgum this year after he spent a ton of money against Bastiat-preferred legislative candidates earlier this year.

Becker and his crew were pushing write-in votes for Michael Coachman in the gubernatorial race.


Coachman is a very nice man who often finds his earnest if unserious campaigns used as pawns in ill-conceived political machinations. In 2018 the Democratic-NPL tried, unsuccessfully, to use Coachman as a way to split the Republican vote in the secretary of state race.

In 2020, Becker was hoping a big vote for Coachman would leave Burgum looking weak.

It backfired.

As I write this, with 100% of precincts reporting, Becker's campaign for Coachman netted a write-in vote totaling just 4.91% of the total ballots cast in the gubernatorial race. Burgum won in a landslide with over 65% of the vote.

Sure, that's down from the more than 76% he earned in 2016, but most of that has to do with Democrat Shelley Lenz, who got 25% of the vote, overperforming Marvin Nelson, the Democratic candidate from 2016, who got just 19%.

"Becker argues that one person to watch in all this is Michael Coachman, the perennial candidate running as a conservative write-in for governor," Sam Easter reported in October. "He’s seen by some observers as a barometer for the strength of Burgum’s mandate, in the likely case of the governor’s re-election. Enough votes for Coachman, the logic goes, and the strength of Burgum’s position against the Legislature starts to waver."

The only thing the Coachman "barometer" ended up measuring was Becker's influence in North Dakota politics, which adds up to a lot of sound and fury on Facebook but not a lot of real-world juice.

The other measure of the influence of Becker and the Bastiats was the vote total for Democratic Treasurer candidate Mark Haugen. The Bastiats had backed state Rep. Dan Johnston in the NDGOP primary, but he was defeated by Burgum-backed Tom Beadle, prompting the Bastiats to throw their allegiance to Haugen.


Haugen ended up with just 33% of the vote, while Beadle picked up 65%. Or about 2 points more than the outgoing incumbent, Republican Kelly Schmidt, earned in 2016.

I suspect Becker will try to rally his troops around the nearly 17,500 write-in votes cast in 2020 (there were just 653 cast in the gubernatorial race in 2016), and maybe that's a moral victory for them.

But, as the Democratic-NPL knows well, moral victories ultimately don't mean much.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

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 Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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