We’re watching the divide within Republican politics grow in real time. Nationally, it is Liz Cheney and Mitt Romney on one side, Donald Trump and Matt Gaetz on the other. That drama and power struggle isn’t just playing out on a national scale. The intra-party tensions are rising right here in North Dakota.
The just ended legislative session saw pragmatic proposals hijacked with extreme amendments by a vocal and growing group within the NDGOP and passed into law. It also was the first time in history a lawmaker was expelled for his well-documented behavior unbecoming of a lawmaker. Both the legislative victories – albeit very few – and the perceived attack on one of their own in Luke Simons have emboldened activists to take action at the district level across the state.
The far-right has made electoral gains by defeating the few elected democrats left over the past handful of elections. Now, they’re looking inward at their fellow NDGOP they don’t view as real Republicans. Perhaps ironically, these far-right members were successful with the aid and resources of the moderate Republicans they are now targeting to censure or primary.
I visited with one of those moderate Republicans on my KFGO radio show about the session and this situation. Rep. Shannon Roers-Jones was very open about what is happening within the party. I respect her candidness. Below is a transcribed exert of our conversation about the status of the NDGOP. You can listen to the full interview including her thoughts on the last session at the player below.
KFGO Conversation with Rep. Roers-Jones
Tyler Axness: And I’m looking at what the legislature did to say, well, you know what, we’re going to have final say on what you can do. That bothers me a little bit. But I understand what you’re saying. As far as you had a legislator as a state Senate Republican, Janne Myrdal, up in the Grafton area doing this. But certainly there was enough support to maintain this language in there. And again, I go back to where I started, where this bill was hijacked because of a group that certainly seems to have a little bit more I don’t want to say control, but certainly they’re even more of an impression and more of a lasting power this session than what I think they have in the last few sessions. And Dwight Keifert, for example, District 24, who is by no means what I would consider a moderate, I mean, he’s a little bit more on the further right side of the Republican Party, the Luke Simons situation, the expulsion. Well, these districts are now kind of an uprising on the Republican side, saying we’re going to censure those that went after Luke Simons. How does that impact your ability to get things done in a compromise on Bismarck?
Rep. Shanon Roers Jones: It definitely creates more of a polarity between certain members of the Republican caucus. We’ve got more moderate Republicans. We’ve got very conservative. And then we have the ultra conservative or the Bastiat caucus. And so what it does is, rather than recognizing that we are all Republicans of varying degrees, you know, most of the time we’re going to agree on issues. But there are certain issues we’re not going to agree on. And rather than recognizing that in kind of embracing the big tent philosophy that I remember hearing many times from Al Carlson is, “you know, we’re a big tent.” We’ve got a lot of viewpoints. They are choosing instead to draw lines in the sand and start to call people who are more moderate RINOs and say you’re not truly Republicans. And we’re going to do things like trying to recruit candidates to run against you. We’re going to do things like try to censure you for actions of yours that we dislike. And the problem with that is the people who they bring in what’s is happening right now at our district reorganizations. A lot of the rural districts have already done their reorganizations. Most of the Cass County districts will do theirs on Monday. They bring in people who aren’t generally actively involved in the politics of the district, but happen to be fired up about this one particular issue. So they bring in these people. They put a motion out to make a resolution to censure people who have voted either against bills that they think are important or in favor of the expulsion of Representative Simons. And so what happens is you get a minority of people making decisions that appear to come from the majority.
Tyler Axness: I’m I’m shocked and maybe I shouldn’t be that one of the hills that people are willing to go up and plant their flag on is the Luke Simon’s expulsion of all things. I mean, I don’t understand and I can say this as far as I mean, he created the narrative that this was some political witch hunt on him because of how effective he was in the legislature. And I can tell you from sitting here, I didn’t see the effect of this as far as legislation getting passed, but they’re motivated. In District 14, the Rugby, Harvey, an Fessenden area we got Jerry Klein, Robin Weisz and Jon Nelson. And I mean, maybe it’s because I was able to get along with these guys and they were willing to work on certain things. But you know what? These people on the more fringe of the Republican side came out and took over the leadership there.
Rep. Shanon Roers Jones: And the thing that’s frustrating is just because you get more likes on a particular post on Facebook or you happen to have more followers on a particular blog doesn’t mean that the majority of people agree with you. Now, if you look at the bills that the members of the Bastiat caucus are advancing, they’re much more extreme, much less pragmatic, I think, than a lot of the things that you’ll see coming from other members of the of the House. And most of them have been wildly unsuccessful. And that’s the part that I struggle with, is that they bring forward these extreme ideas. They’re unwilling to talk to people and kind of work out a compromise position. And then then they will create scorecards based on who voted for their bills versus the rest of the bills, the things that we passed in the legislature and and try and say that everyone who didn’t vote for their bills is a RINO or Republican In Name Only.