Plain Talk With Rob Port

Plain Talk is a podcast hosted by blogger and columnist Rob Port focusing on political news and current events in North Dakota. Host Rob Port writes, North Dakota’s most popular and influential political blog, and is a columnist for the Forum News Service published in papers including the Fargo Forum, Grand Forks Herald, Jamestown Sun, Minot Daily News, and the Dickinson Press.

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Latest Episodes
345: A pro-life Democrat on North Dakota's statewide ballot speaks out
Wed Jun 29 12:28:46 EDT 2022
Believe it or not, there is such a thing as a pro-life Democrat.

There are pro-choice Republicans too, of course, but on this episode of Plain Talk, it was Mark Haugen, the Democratic-NPL candidate for the U.S. House of Representatives, who is staunchly pro-life, who we were speaking to.

Haugen's party leaders have described the U.S. Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade as "evil," but Haugen isn't too worried about that. "Pat's a good friend of mine," he said, referring to party chairman Patrick Hart, and adding that they'd discussed the matter.

Still, Haugen feels it's important to remember that pro-life Democrats are a part of the party. "Are we the minority? Absolutely. But that's democracy," he said. "I have to work hard at explaining my position.

Haugen describes that position as being "whole life," arguing that Democrats should focus on social assistance policies to help mothers and children.

Wednesday co-host Chad Oban and I also discussed the political ramifications of overturning Roe v. Wade, both locally and nationally, as well as the latest revelations of the January 6 committee.

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344: Wrigley will certify ND's bipartisan (you read that right) abortion ban "in a matter of hours"
Mon Jun 27 13:54:43 EDT 2022
Minot, N.D. — You couldn't possibly have missed the news that the U.S. Supreme Court has overturned the Roe v. Wade precedent which held that it was unconstitutional for state governments to ban abortion.

The ruling was unambiguous.

"The Constitution does not prohibit the citizens of each State from regulating or prohibiting abortion," the court ruled. "Roe and Casey arrogated that authority. We now overrule those decisions and return that authority to the people and their elected representatives."

North Dakota, like many other states, has legislation regulating abortion which was written so that it would take effect should the Roe precedent be overturned. On this episode of Plain Talk, the state official responsible for making that determination, Attorney General Drew Wrigley, says we can expect his decision imminently.

"I expect to be announcing that decision in a matter...of hours not days," he said, adding that he doesn't expect to make the announcement today, but it's coming soon.

That's not surprising given how clear the Supreme Court was in their opinion.

Wrigley noted that while researching the issue, he was surprised to see that the 2007 "trigger bill" banning abortion was bipartisan. It was "even sponsored by a Democrat," he noticed.

The bill in question was House Bill 1466, and its primary sponsor was former Rep. James Kerzman, a Democrat. The other House co-sponsor was Rep. Ralph Metcalf, who was also a Democrat.

Rep. Merle Boucher (a gubernatorial candidate in 2004), Rep. Bill Amerman, Sen. Joan Heckaman (the current Minority Leader), Sen. Richard Marcellais, and Sen. Tim Mathern were other notable Democrats who voted to pass the bill.

In addition to the 2007 law, there is also a 2019 trigger bill that banned the most common type of surgical abortion, though Wrigley said that bill was largely moot given the 2007 law.

Once these certifications are completed, Wrigley's office will focus on other bills regulating abortion that haven't been enforced because they've been enjoined by the courts based on the Roe decision. Among these are a ban on abortions after a heartbeat is detected, regulation of the disposal of aborted babies, and a bill regulating hospital admissions for abortions.

Wrigley also addressed the status of his inquiry into a land purchase made by a trust associated with billionaire Bill Gates. His office has sought information on the transaction, and the trust. If it's found to be in violation of a state prohibition on corporate farming, Wrigley says the trust will be required to divest itself of the property.

343: Sen. Kevin Cramer on gas prices, gun control, and the January 6 commission
Fri Jun 17 12:59:42 EDT 2022
Sen. Kevin Cramer and I will never agree about former President Donald Trump.

I think the man was a disgrace to his office. Cramer would be fine if we elected him president again. But one thing we agree on, as we discussed the on-going hearings of the congressional committee investigating the January 6 riot, is that Vice President Mike Pence was the hero of that story. He held his oath to the constitution higher than his loyalty to Trump, and that was a heroic act.

Though I still can't fathom why Cramer, who sees Pence as the hero, can't recognize that Trump is the villain. But you'll have to listen to this episode of Plain Talk to hear him explain that.

As to gas prices, the roots of our problems lay in the unwillingness of the American left to recognize that we still need oil, Our world runs on it. It's unavoidable. The efforts to put the oil industry out of business have only hamstrung its ability to deliver us a product that is vital to our economy and our quality of life. Gas prices are higher than they need to be because they're fighting a Sisyphean struggle against anti-oil politics.

Cramer also discussed the gun control issue, which is much on the minds of Americans after shootings in Uvalde, Texas, and Buffalo, New York. Cramer's not a fan of red flag laws - he responded to some recent criticism of his argument that Republicans are more interested in winning "red wave" elections than in passing red flag laws - but he is open to steps that can be taken to address the potential for violent shooters.

One idea he supports is allowing juvenile records to be used as disqualifiers in background checks for gun purchases.

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342: Recapping North Dakota's primary night
Wed Jun 15 12:15:09 EDT 2022
The North Dakota Republican Party, the dominant force in our state's politics, is deeply divided. If anyone was hoping that primary night, which saw that divide driving the debate in legislative competitions across the state, was going to resolve things they're in for a disappointment.

Republicans across the state voted, and the NDGOP remains about as divided as ever.

We talked about it on this episode of Plain Talk. First Jim Poolman, former insurance commissioner and former vice chairman of the NDGOP, joined Wednesday co-host Chad Oban and I, then Pat Finken, a long-time veteran of state politics and head of the Brighter Future Alliance, chimed in.

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341: Fargo mayoral candidate decries "media bias" in race
Mon Jun 13 12:13:27 EDT 2022
Minot, N.D. — Shannon Roers Jones is a state lawmaker who is currently halfway through her second term representing Fargo-area District 46.

She's also a candidate for mayor of Fargo, and she has been, arguably, the most visible candidate thanks in no small part to a political mugging her father got from the Fargo's city commissioners, including two of her opponents in the mayoral race.

On this episode of Plain Talk, Roers Jones talks about what it would be like serving as a mayor and lawmaker (she hasn't decided if she'd do both if elected mayor), the claims that her mayoral duties, if elected, would clash with her career duties (she works for the family business, Roers Construction, as her day job), and what she describes as "media bias" in the local coverage of this race.

"The Forum has chosen to publish only negative stories and only negative letters," Roers Jones claims, referring to the Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, the flagship newspaper for Forum Communications, my employers.

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340: What's causing inflation, and what can we do about it
Fri Jun 10 12:23:37 EDT 2022
Inflation is a real problem. It's making us poorer. Your wages aren't being cut, but the cost of living your life is growing faster than what you earn.

Fuel prices are up. Utility bills are going higher. Groceries cost more. Hell, everything costs more.

But the subject of inflation is a lot more complicated than what's presented by the politicians and the pundits. On this episode of Plain Talk, Dr. David Flynn, a professor of economics at the University of North Dakota, discussed what's causing inflation, and what can do about it.

One of the hardest parts of talking about this subject is that there's many different causes that necessitate many solutions. Interest rates are part of the solution, but then so is trade policy. How can we ease supply line snaggles? How can we shorten supply lines? How can we make our economy more nimble so that it can respond to change without necessarily driving up prices?

And how do we drive the wage-price spiral? Where higher cost wages drive higher-cost goods and services which in turn creates demand for higher wages again? Earning more money is good, except it doesn't mean much when the cost of living is growing about as fast.

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339: Can Republicans and Democrats find a way to agree on guns?
Wed Jun 08 12:29:11 EDT 2022
In 2019, state Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, a Democrat from Fargo, introduced a red flag bill. It would have created a judicial process through which guns could be taken away from people exhibiting troubling behavior.

I was among the many critics of the bill, and it failed decisively, early in the session, in the House.

But is there merit to the idea, if not Hanson's specific bill?

She joined this episode of Plain Talk to discuss it with me along with Wednesday co-host Chad Oban. We talked about how we can set up a process to get guns out of the hands of dangerous people while simultaneously ensuring the process isn't abused, or that it doesn't deny responsible gun owners their rights.

We also had a lengthy discussion about gun politics, which like so many hot-button political issues are another front in America's endless culture wars.

Chad and I also discussed the threats made against myself and my family recently, which I've written about, and our predictions for the outcome of the state's upcoming June primary vote.

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338: "People want to know more about their elections. And rightfully so."
Mon Jun 06 11:06:08 EDT 2022
We live in a political environment where it seems everyone is trying to undermine the public's trust in our election laws.

From the right are baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen. From the left are claims, such as the one made by Democratic Sec. of State candidate Jeffre Powell, that when politicians talk about election integrity it's a "code word for voter suppression."

State Rep. Michael Howe is seeking the NDGOP's nomination for Secretary of State, and he argues that he way through this food fight is transparency. "People want to know more about their elections. And rightfully so," he said on this episode of Plain Talk.

There is "a lot of misinformation out there," and the way to combat it is to be "open and transparency."

Asked about the election conspiracies promoted by former President Donald Trump, Howe, who said he voted for Trump in both 2016 and 2020, said that Joe Biden won the election and that he's confident votes in North Dakota were counted accurately, though he said he couldn't speak for what happened in other states.

Howe also discussed claims from his primary opponent, Marvin Lepp, that North Dakota's voting machines are outdated and insecure. He expressed support for enhancing reporting requirements for political candidates and committees in North Dakota. He talked about improving the aspects of the Secretary of State's job that have to do with business filings and land management.

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337: What we can do about gun violence, and an exciting hydrogen project
Fri Jun 03 12:19:32 EDT 2022
"We can't get enough school counselors."

That's what Congressman Kelly Armstrong had to say on this episode of Plain Talk. We've all be talking about how we can make our school after in the wake of another horrific tragedy in Uvalde, Texas, and much of that has been focused on proposals that would make our schools seem like prisons, with more law enforcement on campus and more restrictions on building access.

Armstrong mentioned that he recently had the opportunity to spend some time in Israel. "I don't want our children to have to go to school like they have to," he said.

While saying he wouldn't support any new restrictions on gun sales or ownership, he said there are things we can do to help. Like hiring more school counselors. Or making some reforms to the juvenile court system that continue to protect the privacy of juvenile criminal records but don't restrict their utility in background checks for gun transactions.

Also on this episode, Mike Hopkins, the CEO of Bakken Energy, gives an update on his company's hydrogen hub project. They're in the process of obtaining asserts from the Dakota Synfuels Plant, which processed coal into fuel, and once they have possession they're going to get to work using North Dakota natural gas to make hydrogen while using the state's advantageous geology to store the carbon that process produces.

Bakken Energy has entered into an agreement with the tribal government of the MHA Nation to get gas from oil development on their lands, which would help mitigate North Dakota's lingering problems with flaring, an issue that's been particularly acute on tribal lands.

In addition to the supply side of his business, Hopkins also spoke about the emerging markets for hydrogen, and how his business will serve them.

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336: Let's talk about big money in politics
Wed Jun 01 12:16:55 EDT 2022
Governor Doug Burgum is spending big to influence the North Dakota Republican Party's legislative primaries.

The people on the pointy end of that stick, namely the Bastiat Caucus wing of Trumpy populist candidates, don't like that so much, and they've even come up with some dubious legal arguments claiming it may be illegal.

Are they right? Almost certainly not. But even beyond the legalities, is what Burgum doing kosher from just an ethical point of view?

I discussed it on this episode of Plain Talk with my Wednesday co-host Chad Oban.

We also hit on the state of some of those legislative races around the state - it's not looking so good for the Bastiats but District 8 is still a battleground - and touched on some upcoming conversations about gun control we're going to have on the show.

Also on this episode, Cody Schuler, the new advocacy manager for the ACLU of North Dakota, joins to talk about his job and what issues his organization will be prioritizing going forward, with abortion being a big one given that the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to overturn the Roe v. Wade precedent.

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