Port: State Rep. Brandon Prichard still refuses to provide specifics about his academic claims
Prichard, who has jumped into the culture war fracas around transgender issues, said he'd give details in exchange for changes to a story about some of his friends.
MINOT, N.D. — When you visit the online biography pages for North Dakota's lawmakers, you're greeted with a lot of information. Our legislators list details about their families. Their education. Their service in the military and civic groups. Their careers and accomplishments.
If you have visited Rep. Brandon Prichard's biography page — as you may have done, given that he's used his short tenure in the state House to launch himself into the middle of the culture wars with a bill aimed at banning transgender surgeries and therapies for minors — you'll have found it blank .
No mention of schooling. Career. Family. Nothing.
Last year, amid several heated Republican primaries for the state Legislature, I wrote about Prichard, a Republican from District 8 in Bismarck, who seemingly had some inconsistencies in the biography he painted for voters.
A residential address Prichard used while sponsoring a ballot measure last year wasn't in his legislative district. He instead used the address of a home owned by his girlfriend's parents. Prichard told The Bismarck Tribune that he was a student at the University of Minnesota's law school "on a part-time and virtual basis," but law school spokesman Marc Cohen told me, "We do not have that."
Cohen told me he was aware of Prichard's claims before my calling him because they popped up on a "media crawler" monitoring mentions of the school. Cohen said he couldn't provide any other information because of student privacy laws.
I reached out to Prichard for comment before publishing that previous column, and he didn't respond.
At least not right away.
My column was published in April . Months later, in August, Prichard sent me a text message expressing consternation about an article I'd written about bigoted and offensive messages posted in a group chat used by the North Dakota Young Republicans, an organization loosely affiliated with the North Dakota Republican Party and closely aligned with disgraced former President Donald Trump's political movement.
Since this was the first time Prichard, whose candidacy was endorsed by the Young Republicans , had ever communicated with me, I used the occasion to circle back to the questions surrounding his biography. I asked him if he'd provide documentation proving his claims about his academic career, or sign a release allowing the University of Minnesota to provide it.
Prichard tried to bargain with me, saying he'd provide it if I removed the names of his friends from my article about the Young Republicans. "I'd consider showing documentation if you remove the names of all the elected YRs in the chat as well as candidates running for office from your most recent article," he wrote. "It is greatly unfair to pursue a guilt-by-association tactic and expect me to give you evidence of my attendance."
Later in this text exchange, Prichard sent me a screenshot of a course offering from the University of Minnesota that used a blended in-person/remote attendance approach, though this was an introductory course.
When I spoke with Cohen in April , he told me that the law school does offer one-off classes "for the public" but that attending one wasn't the same as being enrolled in the law school.
With Prichard refusing to provide further details unless I agreed to remove the names of his political allies from my reporting, and given that independent verification of these claims was impossible without some sort of a release from Prichard, it didn't seem I was going to make any further progress, and I dropped the matter in favor of other stories.
Besides, at that point, having won the NDGOP's primary, Prichard was running unopposed in the general election.
Flash forward to last week, with the scandal around Republican Congressman George Santos making national headlines , I decided to revisit these issues with Prichard. I asked him for details about his residency, his work history, and his academic record.
"Respectfully, I think this story was dead a long time ago. I am not sure why you are giving me — and only me — such a high level of scrutiny surrounding my education and residence," Prichard replied in an email. "I will give you some brief answers, but they may not help."
"When I say that I attend 'part-time' I was referring to the amount of time I spent completing school work," Prichard continued, responding to my question about his comments about being a part-time law student. "I had classes Monday-Wednesday and only spent 15-20 hours on coursework which is similar to a part-time job. This was not meant to deceive anyone. I technically was a full-time student because I had over 12 credits, but my time requirement was not equal to a full-time position."
Prichard also addressed the question of his residency, acknowledging that he is living at an address owned by the parents of a woman who is now his fiancee. "Her family and I have a close relationship and I am fortunate that they allow me to reside in the address you mentioned," he said. "My government documents like my driver’s license is listed at the address, I filed my 2021-2022 taxes at the address, I receive bank statements and mail at the address in my district."
Yet when asked if he has ever been enrolled in the University of Minnesota Law School, Prichard again refused to answer directly. "Think about this Rob. If I have taken class in the law school do I have to be enrolled at the university?" he asked. He listed a number of law-related courses he claims to have taken, but it can't be independently verified if he took them as a law school student or an undergraduate student, or if he took them at all.
He's also side-stepped questions I've asked about what degrees, if any, he's completed.
When again asked if he'd sign a release allowing the University of Minnesota to confirm his claims about his academic record, he again demured, citing privacy concerns.
"I do not like my personal records to be revealed since personal information is included in the documentation," he said before claiming that he's set records at the school with his academic prowess.
"My understanding is that I broke the university’s record for most credits taken in a semester with a perfect GPA with 32 credits which is double the average student’s courseload," he claimed.
Which is not the first time Prichard has made big claims about his abilities as a student. He also claimed in a social media post to be quadruple majoring in history, philosophy, political science, and religious studies.
If you're feeling a little confused about all this, you're not alone. I am, too.
I do not understand why an elected official, acting in good faith, would go to such lengths to avoid questions with easy answers to questions about biographical information he's not shy about touting.
One possibility, which has given me pause when I have considered whether to write this column, is that Prichard is trolling me. Perhaps his academic record is precisely what he says it is. In his defense, I've been able to verify some claims he's made, such as his part-time work at a Minneapolis law firm, and his status as a finalist for a Truman Scholarship.
But Prichard is among that school of politicians, heavily influenced by Trump, who see an acrimonious and uncooperative relationship with the news media as a political asset. Perhaps he's not answering my questions because by playing coy he's inviting a conflict with a journalist that some voters find titillating.
Yet there remains the problem of the unanswered questions.
I've asked him to list which degrees he's earned if any, and he's refused to answer.
I've asked him to allow the University of Minnesota to release information substantiating his claims, and he's agreed to do so only under terms that he knows would be unacceptable to any ethical journalist.
In our last exchange, I told Prichard that I was going to report he refused to answer these questions and that he should tell me if he felt that was inaccurate. "It's fine I guess," he responded. "I just don't think it's necessary. There will always be something wrong with what I say or do."
Prichard's claims about his education were a big part of his campaign, which painted a picture of a bright young Republican eager to make a difference in Bismarck. Yet when pressed about the details of his biography, to ensure that the voters can believe what they were told, Prichard hasn't been forthcoming.
He's dodged and dissembled, and now here we are.
Which is, perhaps, exactly where Prichard wants us. He can smirk, sitting in the Legislature, having gotten elected in part about big-but-unsubstantiated claims about his academic record.
I'll close with an illuminating anecdote from my interactions with Prichard: While he gave me the run-around in response to my inquiries, he was sure to email me a high-definition copy of his legislative portrait so I could use it with my column.
I couldn't help but feel it was offered in the spirit of that old saw: "Say anything you like about me, just spell my name right."