During the 2018 elections, North Dakota voters went to the ballot box and resoundingly rejected lobbyist gifts for their local representatives. The language of the measure prohibited gifts between any public officials and lobbyists, including dinners and meals. The North Dakota Ethics Commission is tasked with figuring out how to implement this new law, and to put it plainly, some legislators are taking this measure harder than others. 

Republican Representative Keith Kempenich expressed worry for himself and fellow lawmakers when he said dinners funded by lobbyists and other groups had gone from “steak and lobster to finger food.” Kempenich says he used to get fancy dinners from lobbyists, but now he has to eat spaghetti out of a can. Lawmakers used to joke about the weight they packed on during a session, but this session, he said, the free food is nonexistent.

As a result, Representative Kempenich is sponsoring HB1424 that would allow lawmakers who live outside Bismarck to claim reimbursement for meals. The bill has an estimated two-year cost of more than $424,000, or about $3,340 for each of the 127 qualified lawmakers during the maximum 80-day session.

This should hardly be a priority concern to the legislators of North Dakota. But, it’s getting a hearing this week in Bismarck.  

51,610 people are struggling with hunger in this state, and instead of coming to their rescue, their lawmakers are worried about not eating lobster anymore. 1 in 10 children in North Dakota struggle with hunger, and people facing hunger need $27,186 more per year to live a healthy and active lifestyle. But some in the North Dakota legislature want their tax money to feed themselves. It really gives new meaning to “government pork”, doesn’t it?

Voters of North Dakota decided to keep special interest money out of our state, and our representatives should understand and respect that. These elected officials have the power to make positive changes for the people that entrusted them with their votes

There are too many hard-working North Dakotans who are forced to make challenging decisions about how to put food on the table for their families. They will never have lobbyists paying for steak and caviar meals in exchange for power and influence. Instead of prioritizing their constituents and their needsRepublican legislators like Representative Kempenich are focused on making up for the free food they used to enjoy by eating the government pork themselves.

Tessa Gould