The real Doug Burgum would have been a more interesting candidate

MINOT--The real Doug Burgum would have made for a much more formidable gubernatorial candidate than the contrived one we see on the campaign trail now.

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MINOT-The real Doug Burgum would have made for a much more formidable gubernatorial candidate than the contrived one we see on the campaign trail now.

I'm not suggesting the current Burgum iteration is a pushover. I have no doubt that the mountains of money he's throwing at his campaign is moving the needle against his opponent in the Republican primary race for governor, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

We'll see how much he can move it when primary voters cast their ballots in June.

For now, I'm just saying he might not have had to spend so much money had he campaigned as himself.

Currently Burgum is running as an outsider who will change the status quo. This despite being an intimate of the last three Republican governors, directing prodigious amounts of money into their campaigns.


Burgum is campaigning with lobbyist and former NDGOP chairman Bob Harms as a top adviser and surrogate even, as he derides the influence of lobbyists and insiders.

In the past, Burgum has been an outspoken proponent of social liberalism but now can't seem to remember his past positions as he dances around questions about abortion and gay rights on the campaign trail.

During an interview with the High Plains Reader last spring, Burgum said he supported SB2279, a controversial bill banning discrimination against homosexuals which was defeated by the Legislature in 2015. "The passing of this bill is an important message to all of our citizens, that we as a state will protect the rights of ALL citizens," he said at the time.

I wish I'd known about those comments in January, when I interviewed Burgum shortly after his campaign announcement for one of my columns. When I asked him about SB2279 then he wouldn't say if he supported it or not, claiming he couldn't remember the details.

Somehow, from March to January, Burgum forgot the details of the most controversial piece of legislation debated in Bismarck in 2016 which he publicly supported.

Either that or he conveniently forgot.

Burgum has branded himself a free market capitalist, yet in Fargo, has built a real estate business around public subsidies and regulations promoting the sort of development he's engaged in building.

Asked by Fargo City Commissioner Tony Gehrig at a public meeting in November, before Burgum announced his campaign, why subsidies and regulations are needed to promote denser development, Burgum expressed a lack of trust in the free market ideals he now embraces.


"The free market won't deliver that," he said.

This all adds up to a lot of maneuvering for a guy who launched his campaign by telling us he's not a politician.

Burgum is neither as fiscally conservative nor as socially conservative as he would like Republican primary voters to believe he is. His mistake, I think, was thinking he had to become something he's not to win.

In fact, I think this blatantly convenient shift in his politics has done more to distract from the real merits of his candidacy.

There is no denying that Burgum is a gifted businessman and entrepreneur. There is no question that he has ideas for North Dakota which are interesting worth considering.

I wish he'd spend more time talking about those things, and less time wearing the costume of a cookie-cutter conservative politician spewing whatever talking points have been drifting to the top of his seemingly ceaseless polling.

I wonder how many North Dakotans who are turned off by campaign-mode Burgum might have supported a more authentic version of him.

I wonder how many conservative North Dakota voters will be surprised when, should he win, Burgum the governor turns out to be a very different thing from Burgum the candidate.


If I have been a harsh critic of Burgum in recent weeks, and I think it's fair to say that I have been, it is only because I am far less interested in the version of himself he's put on the campaign trail than I am in the real deal.

Rob Port, founder of, a North Dakota political blog, is a Forum Communications commentator.

Related Topics: DOUG BURGUM
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