Anyone who follows North Dakota politics is familiar with a minority group of Republican legislators known as the “Bastiat Caucus”. For those who advocate for limited government, the most principled of the group are considered the stalwarts of the party. On the other hand, for Republicans who support ideals that result in bigger government, the Bastiat are labeled as something with a far less admirable connotation.
As you can see by their own website, the Bastiat Caucus is:
“… a voluntary association of legislators within the North Dakota State House and Senate. Formed during the 2013 Legislative Session, the Caucus provides a forum to discuss the enduring principles of limited, constitutional government, especially as they relate to current legislation and budgets that are proposed within the North Dakota Legislature.”
An example of less than admirable comments about the Bastiat can be found in a recent interview between radio talk show host Scott Hennen and his guest, former District 3 Republican legislator Roscoe Streyle, regarding the State Auditor’s situation. At the 16:18 mark, Hennen reads a comment from a listener who would like to see a Rick Becker/Josh Gallion ticket for governor. Becker, of course, is the District 7 legislator who founded the Bastiat Caucus. In response to what Hennen reads, Streyle takes to criticizing Rep. Becker and the Bastiat’s:
“Rick Becker and his French guy caucus is libertarians using the Republican Party, quite frankly. I’ll be that blunt. And he isn’t the answer.”
Four days later, Rep. Luke Simons (R – District 36) — who is a member of the Bastiat Caucus — called in to Hennen’s program to respond to Streyle’s comments. You can listen to the exchange here at the 12:53 mark. What was most fascinating about it was when Simons brought up the NDGOP platform and resolutions as a means of illustrating that the Bastiat is far better aligned with what the North Dakota Republican Party purports to stand for than people like Roscoe Streyle who criticize them. To this, Scott Hennen replies:
“I hear ya. But what I think — ya know — and that often happens with platforms, where the platform is sorta utopian and its everybody getting a win. So, all this stuff is thrown in there. But what actually — ultimately — shows up in governing is very different. My problem with the — ya know — this group, Luke, that you’re a part of, is that you’re really using the apparatus of the Republican Party to further a political cause that is very different than the people who are governing in the Republican Party. Now, you can say, ‘We’re trying to save the Republican Party from itself.’ Sure. I hear ya. But I’d rather you just say, ‘Look, we’re going to be purists.'”
You read it right. To Hennen — and others like him — the principles found in the North Dakota Republican Party platform mean little or nothing. And not only that, but it’s problematic for folks like Hennen that people like those found in the Bastiat Caucus dare to “further a political cause that is very different than the people who are governing in the Republican Party.” In other words, the Republican political establishment — sometimes referred to as “RINO’s” — just can’t stomach a principled approach when it comes to lawmaking.
This, of course, isn’t a surprise to those of us who follow North Dakota politics. For limited government types, we’ve known the reality of this for years as we’ve felt rumblings of contention from within the party. It is, quite literally, an escalating battle of sorts for the heart and soul of the NDGOP.
The reality is that big government Republicans can’t stand the Bastiat because it’s a constant reminder to them that they’re not as Republican as they should be. Oh sure, many might pay lip service to limited government talking points — like Free Markets, the 2nd Amendment, local control of education, cutting taxes, etc. — during campaign time or townhalls, but when it comes time to vote, they’re too often found on the wrong side of the issues.
So, rather than fess up to the reality of who they really are, they instead attack the most conservative among them as being “libertarians”— as if it’s the Bastiats who don’t fit in the party. When the reality is that the Bastiats are far more Republican than the people criticizing them ever were.
Yesterday, Mike Jacobs — a former editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald — wrote this about the Bastiat Caucus:
“The Bastiat Caucus has emerged as an important piece of the political fabric in the state, for three reasons. The first is the decline of the Democratic Party in the state and its failure to offer alternatives to the mainstream Republicans who run the place. The second is that mainstream Republicans are divided in a number of ways, although on the whole they are more moderate than the Bastiats. The third is the creative energy in the caucus itself. Whatever one’s reaction to the Bastiats, they’ve made themselves heard not just within the Legislature, but well beyond.” (Emphasis Added)
He’s right— on all three counts. But it’s Jacob’s third point that I believe best explains the festering feelings of disdain found within the party towards the Bastiat Caucus. While these advocates of limited government are often found on the losing end of key pieces of legislation, their influence seems to be growing. And if that trend continues, it spells disaster for the big government folks who just don’t want to let go.
When it comes to things like $50 million towards the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum, the $5 million cactus garden, subsidizing drug use through needle exchange programs, passing bills that could increase property taxes, or stripping the State Auditor of his authority to initiate performance audits; you’ll find that these ideas weren’t spawned — nor endorsed — by the Bastiat Caucus.
Over the course of the last decade, the North Dakota Legislature had increased spending by 160%. Increases like this don’t happen with the stamp of approval from the Bastiat Caucus. No, in fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s the Bastiat Caucus who consistently supports limiting government, reducing taxes, promotes Free Markets, and urges elected officials to be consistent in principle. That is their agenda. They’re basically everything their critics aren’t.
Exactly how much of an influence the Bastiat Caucus ultimately has on North Dakota politics will be up to the people. If the electorate is satisfied with continued increases in spending, unnecessary taxation, and all that goes with it, then they’ll support the status quo. But if they’re ready to rein in the monstrosity of state government, they’ll realize that replacing big government Republicans is the only way to change Bismarck. The Bastiats need all the help they can get.
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