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Plain Talk: A conservative North Dakota lawmaker talks about her struggles with the culture warriors

An influential and conservative lawmaker from North Dakota's coal country talks about what it's like to get caught up in the culture wars that are convulsing Republican politics both locally and nationally.

Senator Jessica Bell Congressman Kelly Armstrong
State Sen. Jessica Bell (D-33), center, participates in an April 2019 roundtable discussion on energy issues with Congressman Kelly Armstrong, right, and Public Service Commissioner Randy Christmann, left.
(Brandon L. Summers / The Dickinson Press)
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MINOT, N.D. — Sen. Jessica Bell, a Republican from District 33, has a lengthy track record of reliably conservative policy making in the North Dakota Senate, which includes her consequential work to save a coal-fired power plant that employs, directly and indirectly, thousands of her constituents.

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"I expect to be announcing that decision in a matter ... of hours not days," he said, adding that he doesn't expect to make the announcement today, but it's coming soon.

Yet the delegates at the NDGOP's local district convention didn't endorse her for re-election. Instead they endorsed Keith Boehm, who campaigned against Bell based on her votes against a bill regulating transgender participation in North Dakota school activities.

How did a culture war issue come to be so much more important than jobs and taxes and sound governance? Sen. Bell talked about it on this episode of Plain Talk.

"It was a bad bill," she said in explanation of her vote on the transgender activities issue. "It was poorly written."

She said North Dakota's elected officials ought to be focused on issues important to North Dakota, and not national culture war issues. "Just because we saw it on Fox News doesn't mean it's appropriate," she said.

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She added that she does appreciate the challenge, however, in that it gives her the opportunity to talk about her work in the Senate. It is "pushing me to be better," she said.

Also on this episode, Wednesday co-host Chad Oban and I talk about the roots of the controversy around the Midwest Carbon Express pipeline , Elon Musk's purchase of Twitter, and Sen. Ray Holmberg resigning from the Senate amid controversy.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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