Port: House majority leader responds to lawmaker's bizarre anti-vax rant directed at health department
"Please deal with the science, not the hype and fear. Please deal with reality, not the free money You are developing a cult-like following," Rep. Jeff Hoverson, a Lutheran pastor, continued in an email sent after midnight to every member of the Department of Health.
UPDATE: House Majority Leader Chet Pollert has sent a response to Hoverson's email in a message of his own to State Health Officer Dr. Nizar Wehbi. You can read it below.
MINOT, N.D. — This morning my email box lit up messages from people in state government forwarding me copies of a late-night email from Rep. Jeff Hoverson , a Republican from Minot.
Hoverson, a member of the Bastiat Caucus who recently had to miss an anti-vaccine rally he helped organize because he came down with COVID-19 , sent the missive at 12:42am with the subject line, "stop listening to Pfizer."
"How many serious vaccine injuries is this going to take to stop you from pushing this on young people," Hoverson wrote before exhorting Department of Health staff to watch a video, posted by a politician from New Zealand, purporting to show a link between vaccines and heart attacks.
"Not the vaccine? Okay, so the guy I know of in Minnesota? (one of many) is in his 40’s. Now in a study at Mayo. Has to have a heart difib for life. He is pissed off because Someone convinced him to get vaxxed," Hoverson continued (the erratic capitalization and adventures with grammar are in the original).
"Please deal with the science, not the hype and fear. Please deal with reality, not the free money You are developing a cult-like following," Hoverson, a Lutheran pastor, continued.
For what it's worth, Hoverson was missing in action during yesterday's session. I called him, and he told me he was taking a break due to his COVID-19 symptoms.
A number of people who forwarded the email to me were wondering if this was an illegal use of state resources for political purposes.
Under Chapter 16.1 of the North Dakota Century Code , it is illegal to use state property (up to and including state email accounts) for political purposes. But a political purpose, for the purposes of that statute, is defined in the law as, "any activity undertaken in support of or in opposition to a statewide initiated or referred measure, a constitutional amendment or measure, a political subdivision ballot measure, or the election or nomination of a candidate to public office and includes using 'vote for,' 'oppose,' or any similar support or opposition language in any advertisement whether the activity is undertaken by a candidate, a political committee, a political party, or any person."
Hoverson wasn't doing any of that stuff. So, no, his message probably isn't illegal.
But is it appropriate?
I don't think it is.
Whatever your views on vaccination, we should expect our state officials, be they elected or not, to comport themselves with a degree of professionalism and respect. Subjecting every single member of our very busy Department of Health to an after-midnight, anti-vaxxer harangue is not appropriate behavior for a member of the Legislature.
At this point, it's worth noting some context. Earlier this week Rep. Hoverson called me to say he could possibly be censured after he insulted his Majority Leader, Rep. Chet Pollert , R-Carrington, during floor remarks. Hoverson later made a public apology about that incident, but then went on to send this email to the Department of Health.
We're all passionate about politics. Beyond that, serving in the Legislature is very hard. It's a job filled with a lot of pressure and frustration. Sometimes, tempers spill over, and when that happens, maybe we can all be a little understanding.
But when abusive, harassing behavior becomes a pattern? That's a problem.
Sadly, Hoverson's behavior has become a habit, and not just with him, but with other members of the Bastiat Caucus as well.
UPDATE: Pollert has emailed a response to Hoverson's email to North Dakota Health Officer Dr. Nizar Wehbi.
"It has come to my attention that an email was sent to employees of the ND Department of Health from a member of the ND House of Representatives, Rep. Jeff Hoverson," Pollert wrote in an email that was also provided to me. "The email from Rep. Hoverson does not represent the opinions of the ND House of Representatives or myself. They are his comments alone. I can only speak for myself but numerous House members and I have all said that we have a great amount of respect and appreciation for the continuous work of the Department of Health, the employees and all state employees. These are very difficult and challenging times, rest assured that we appreciate all your hard work."
You can read the full email below.
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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 .