Port: Burgum's veto of the pronouns bill is what limited government conservatism looks like

"But I suspect that won't stop many self-styled 'conservatives' in this era of Republican politics, dominated by reactionary supporters of Donald Trump, from accusing him of liberalism."

Gov. Doug Burgum speaks Monday, March 27, 2023, at the North Dakota Army National Guard’s Aviation Support Facility in Bismarck, where he signed Senate Bill 2293, exempting military pay from state income tax.
Darren Gibbins / The Bismarck Tribune

MINOT, N.D. — It is discouraging to watch conservatives, self-described champions of limited government, scramble to use the awesome power of government to prosecute a culture war. This legislative session, we've seen dozens of grubby bills in Bismarck — from book bans to pronoun regulations — that, if we're being honest, are all rooted in a deep-seated discomfort with the LGBTQ+ community.

This, we're told, is conservatism, though it's hard to discern what any of it has to do with limiting government.

Today Gov. Doug Burgum vetoed one of those bills . Specifically, Senate Bill 2231, which would have regulated pronoun use in state government and schools. It would have also prohibited teachers from receiving training, and schools from enacting policies, recognizing that transgenderism is a thing that exists.

Burgum's reasoning is rooted in limited government principles. The legislation "infringes on local control by unnecessarily injecting the state into rare instances most appropriately handled at the parent, teacher and school district level," he wrote in his veto letter. The bill also "removes discretion from school boards, schools and teachers in determining how to accommodate the needs of all students in public schools."

He also argues that the legislation is unnecessary because teachers, like the rest of us, already have First Amendment protections against state-compelled speech.


That Burgum is correct, from a conservative perspective, in his analysis of the limits of government, and our existing constitutional protections, is beyond doubt. Conservatives ought not want laws where there is no need for laws. A problem as intimate as pronouns — to the extent it even is a problem — is one to be solved at the personal level between students, parents, teachers, and school administrators.

We don't need this law, and conservatives oughtn't support laws that aren't needed. I think this point of view, from Twitter, summarizes it nicely:

How can anyone who is for small government be in favor of spending tax dollars on regulating pronouns? Not to mention paying potentially millions to lawyers to defend this law from the inevitable legal challenges?

I suspect that won't stop many self-styled "conservatives" in this era of Republican politics, dominated by reactionary supporters of Donald Trump, from accusing him of liberalism.

Burgum is polling at 0%. Trump routinely leads the GOP's field of candidates by 30 points. The only way to change that is to get the disgraced former president's attention, Rob Port writes.
The accusations were detailed in documents from the Minot Public School District.
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The very, very early polling numbers aren't good. But they're not all bad, either.
A spokesman for Burgum confirmed that the governor has plans for a major announcement in Fargo that day.

By the way, I've written recently about Burgum's clear, if quiet, presidential aspirations . One of the things I wondered about in that context was what that ambition might mean for how Burgum deals with some of the hot-button issues the Legislature is sending to his desk.

If this veto is any indication, it seems Burgum is going to remain true to principles. Remember, in 2021, Burgum vetoed a bill that would have regulated the participation of transgender students in high school activities, arguing then that there was no evidence that the state's existing policies were insufficient to ensure fairness.

As to the fate of SB2231, the Legislature can override vetoes with a supermajority vote. This bill achieved that in the Senate, but fell three votes shy in the House. It seems likely that lawmakers will try to override the veto, but if the lawmakers stick with how they've already voted, they'll fail.

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 Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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