Let's make this clear. I'll never concede. For one thing, the media doesn't get to declare the winner in the top columnist category in The Forum's Best of the Red River Valley Contest — even if the contest is technically owned by the media. You know who decides? Lawyers. Because last I heard, this is still America, and if you can't beat 'em, sue 'em. Just ask my law firm, Ruby, Julie, Annie & Accomplices.

I WON, BELIEVE ME!

When I went to bed (alone, so very alone, two doors down from my significant bother, Melancholia), I had huuuge leads in Mantador, Wyndmere and Osnabrock — the biggest leads ever — but when I woke up, Jim Shaw was ahead. How does that happen? I demand they throw out all the internet votes!

Seriously, does anyone really believe I didn't carry Gwinner? I own a Bobcat for cripes sake! And Ludden? I've dropped more cash on that bar than Sleepy Jim ever did. Once, I even bought a round (after I lost while shaking dice). Believe me, after the recount, I'll have carried Ludden and its surrounding suburbs by a bigly margin.

Don't even get me started on Horace. People are saying that more people in Horace voted than actually live there. Plus, Shaw's a Beatles fan and everyone knows that Horace is a Rolling Stones town. And yet he gets all the satisfaction.

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Another thing. Around here, we're all Minnesota Twins fans, right, because we believe in God and freedom and stuff, but not Shaw. Noooo! He cheers for the Red Sox. Or is it the Reds? Either way, it sounds kinda commie to me.

Did you see the size of my rallies? Especially in Ludden? And you're telling me those huuuge unmasked crowds don't translate to victory? The only way that doesn't happen is if the vote was rigged or if they don't have Wi-Fi in the ICU.

While I was out leading cheers of “Lock him up!” do you know where Jim Shaw was? Locked in his basement fighting for the soul of North Dakota by writing insightful socially conscious essays. Standing up against racist presidents. Which is the last thing we need. North Dakotans don't want all that intellectual feel-good decency crap. They want me. My crap.

So I've barricaded myself in Jack Zaleski's old penthouse suite atop The Forum Building in Fargo (where the view now sucks thanks to Block 9) until my crack legal team or my legal team that's on crack secures my victory or until the liquor cabinet is depleted. After that, I'll fight them at Dempsey's, Duffy's, Chub's Pub or the Empire Tavern. Which wouldn't be the first time. I shall never surrender!

For now, I'm practice-putting on Zaleski's luxurious '70s-era orange shag carpeting and doing what lame-duck columnists do: issuing pardons. I started with my colleagues Rob Port and Bette Grande. Well, not Bette. Not exactly. Her, I'm just going to forgive. There'll be no pardon for Mike Hulett for his crimes against reality, though. Sedatives, perhaps. And no pardon for Ross Nelson! Even if it is the season for giving.

After the way I've been treated — worse than any columnist ever — don't think we're decorating the joint for Christmas, either. If you don't like it, take it up with Melancholia. You'll be lucky if we leave the silverware.

Tony Bender writes an exclusive weekly column for Forum News Service.