MINOT, N.D. — There is a movement afoot in the Legislature to, by way of various bills, to end Gov. Doug Burgum's current emergency order, addressing the COVID-19 pandemic, and to diminish the emergency powers of the governor's office going forward.
Bastiat Caucus founder and anti-masking zealot Rep. Rick Becker (R-Bismarck) is leading the charge with proposals ranging from a relatively sane resolution terminating Burgum's current emergency declaration to a bill which create, in law, a moratorium on paying the state's top public officials -- including heads of agencies like the Department of Health and Department of Emergency Services -- if any policy like a curfew or capacity restrictions are implemented on businesses.
Could these efforts be successful? I'm doubtful. Becker is an expert at drawing the spotlight to himself, but then car wrecks draw crowds too.
His political clout has never been what he'd like you to believe it is.
That said, we live in strange political times, and for reasons as confounding as those that drove a violent mob to attack the U.S. Capitol last week, the masking issue has become a political flashpoint in our state and our country. Rhetorical bomb-throwers like Becker have been exploiting it.
This brings us to Gov. Doug Burgum's announcement today that he'll be letting North Dakota's mask mandate expire at 8 a.m. Monday.
BREAKING: Gov. Doug Burgum said North Dakota's statewide mask mandate will be allowed to expire at 8 a.m. on Monday.— Jeremy Turley (@jeremyjturley) January 15, 2021
I believe this is a calculated move by Burgum.
He's still very much concerned about our state's COVID-19 numbers. They're significantly improved from a few months ago, sure, but the virus is still raging in other parts of the country. A second, awful wave is still very much a possibility for our communities. This is likely why Burgum made it clear in his press release that local-level mask mandates will be supported by the state.
Burgum "noted that cities and counties may continue to have mask requirements in place, and the state supports those locally enacted protocols.," the release from the governor's office states.
Most of the state's largest communities still have mandates, and many businesses also require masks before patrons can enter.
Those things aren't likely to change.
But by getting rid of the statewide mask mandate, Burgum robs Becker and other lawmakers aligned with his Bastiat Caucus a flashpoint issue they can leverage to pass their broader restrictions on emergency powers.
There would be no small amount of havoc unleashed if Becker is successful in, say, overturning Burgum's current executive order. Not only would it put a panoply of pandemic-inspired appropriations from the federal level in jeopardy, it would rob the governor of his ability to ramp up restrictions again should the state's COVID-19 numbers begin trending in the wrong direction again.
Again, I don't think Becker has the juice to get any of that done. Especially now that the riot in Washington, D.C., has soured many in the public, including many Republicans, on the Trumpy antics of political minstrels like Becker.
What I hope is that Americans, generally, and North Dakotans, specifically, have a diminished appetite for the sort of brinksmanship games Trump-aligned politicians like Becker like to play and a greater appetite for responsible governance.
I think I'm right.
I believe Burgum's move today was a hedge in case I'm wrong.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.