MINOT, N.D. — Last year, Bastiat Caucus founder, Rep. Rick Becker of Bismarck, in an indignant letter to the editor, claimed there are "30 dues-paying legislators in the Bastiat Caucus this biennium."
That's a big number.
If it's true, it would mean that this rump caucus of Trump-aligned politicians, while representing only a minority of the NDGOP caucus, is more than twice the size of the Democratic-NPL caucus.
There are reasons to believe that Becker is exaggerating.
Why wouldn't they make that public? If Becker's membership count is truthful, the Bastiats wield a lot of clout.
Yet the Bastiats have, at least when it comes to speaking as a caucus, seem to have gone silent. Their Facebook and Twitter accounts haven't been updated since 2019, and their website at BastiatCaucus.org, which once included statements about the group's legislative agenda and philosophies as well as the names of the group's leadership, has gone dark.
Last week the site was displaying a message saying the user's account had been suspended, which could be the result of posting content unacceptable to the web host or nonpayment.
This week it appears as though the domain name is up for sale.
Rep. Ruby did not respond to an inquiry about the status of the website.
Why would a group of lawmakers that claims to be larger than the Legislature's minority party seemingly abandon their online presence?
Whatever has happened, Bastiat-aligned lawmakers, however many of them there may be, are still making headlines.
Just weeks into the current legislative session, lawmakers associated with this supposedly libertarian-minded group have already drawn attention for obscenely stupid proposals ranging from a bill to ban the governor's political speech to a constitutional amendment that would seemingly make homosexuality and transgenderism all but illegal in North Dakota.
Becker, who has been one of the loudest voices disputing the seriousness of the COVID-19 pandemic, introduced a bill that would deny pay to public officials, including all statewide elected leaders as well as the heads of agencies like the Department of Health, while emergency restrictions like curfews or capacity restraints are in place.
Rep. Jeff Hoverson, a Bastiat from Minot, wants financial assistance for adopting couples, but only if they're heterosexual and married. Last year this man, who has also worked as a Lutheran pastor, objected to an invocation delivered to the House by a Hindu spiritual leader.
Rep. Terry Jones, a Bastiat from New Town, argued in favor of his bill requiring "American" as a choice for race on official forms by supposing that some Black Americans are "glad their ancestors were brought here as slaves."
Several Republican lawmakers I've spoken to say they're tired of being lumped in with the Bastiats and their antics. "Every time one of them drops some crazy bill or says a stupid thing, we get a chorus of 'there go those crazy Republicans again' from the media when the truth is these bills won't pass," one told me. "The Bastiats will vote for them, and that's about it, and what they say does not represent Republicans."
The rebuttal to that is that the Bastiats are Republicans. They won their primaries as Republicans. They were identified as Republicans on the general election ballot. They caucus with the NDGOP in the Legislature and participate in their local Republican parties.
I can understand the frustration Republicans feel about being lumped in with a secretive group of goofballs who seem less interested in governing than proposing inflammatory policies that will enhance their Facebook notoriety. But it's incumbent upon the Republicans in the Legislature fed up with the Bastiats to do something about it.
Maybe that's in the offing, and maybe it explains why the official Bastiat organization, despite Becker's bluster about membership counts, seems to be fading.
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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.