Plain Talk is a podcast hosted by blogger and columnist Rob Port focusing on political news and current events in North Dakota. Host Rob Port writes SayAnythingBlog.com, North Dakota’s most popular and influential political blog, and is a columnist for the Forum News Service published in papers including the Fargo Forum, Grand Forks Herald, Jamestown Sun, Minot Daily News, and the Dickinson Press.
But it turned out that UND didn't own the trademark to 'NODAK." A business entity associated with Coach Berry's daughter did, and that created the appearance of a conflict of interest. The business entity has since transferred ownership of the trademark to the school, but is that really the end of this issue?
UND President Andrew Armacost joined this episode of Plain Talk to discuss the situation.
He said that the trademark was transferred to UND, and that no money or other inducements were part of the deal. He said he first learned about the issue through a fraud hotline tip to the North Dakota University System head office, though the issue gained public notoriety after I wrote about it earlier this week.
Armacost said he hasn't spoken to Coach Berry about his involvement, if any, in the formation of the business entity or the registration of the trademark. Asked if UND planned any further review of the matter to ensure that policies promoting ethics, and prohibiting conflicts of interest, had been followed, Armacost said the matter was "resolved" by transferring the trademark.
That ended the conflict, he argued.
He also said that he wouldn't call on Coach Berry to address the public about what participation he had, if any, saying that he would do the same with any other university employee in similar circumstances.
"That'll be for Coach Berry to make a determination," he said.
As for why the university didn't trademark "NODAK" previously, Armacost said it was the opinion of their legal counsel that the schools prior use of "NODAK" established their rights to it, but admitted that in "hindsight" the school should have acted.
"We could have protected it and avoided this altogether," he said.
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Those precedents have been overturned, and while there's still legal wrangling around the law in North Dakota courts - our state Supreme court held oral arguments about an injunction currently blocking it this week - it's clear that the legislature, in its upcoming session, will have some clean-up to do on the abortion issue.
State Senator Janne Myrdal, a Republican who has worked as an activist in the pro-life movement for more than 30 years, joined this episode of Plain Talk to talk about what that debate might look like.
Myrdal told co-host Chad Oban and I that while she intends to "stand behind" North Dakota's existing laws, she does see the need for some tweaks, such as the "affirmative defense" exceptions in the law which would allow medical professionals to defend themselves against felony charges should they perform an abortion in the instance of something like rape or incest. Myrdal said she's not interested in hauling doctors into court.
She also said she's not interested in, nor has she heard of any bills coming forward, that would put restrictions on things like storing embryos, but she did say she believes Republicans can't just focus on banning abortion.
Myrdal said she plans to support laws to make the adoption process easier, and to provide better care for mothers and children around a pregnancy.
The new legislative session begins in January.
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And the legislature will go about its business with new leaders. Two long-time chairs of the House and Senate appropriations committees are no longer in the legislature. Two long-serving lawmakers who served as majority leaders last session have retired.
Their replacements - Sen. David Hogue of Minot and Rep. Mike Lefor of Dickinson, now the Senate and House majority leaders, respectively - joined this episode of Plain Talk to discuss the upcoming session.
They talked about the challenges a newly-approved term limits amendment to the state constitution poses when it comes to recruiting competent lawmakers and mentoring legislative leadership. They also discussed how they'll approach their relationship with Gov. Burgum, who had a sometimes rocky tenure with their predecessors, and how they'll manage sprawling caucus that make up almost the entirety of the chambers they serve in.
Lefor, specifically, said he's focused on taking "the wind out of politics" in the House. "There are a big number of legislators who are tired of the politics," he continued, saying he'd like to tamp down the theatrics and get focused on policy debates.
Hogue agreed, saying he'd like members of his caucus to take up "portfolios" of policy areas where they can serve as experts for their fellow lawmakers, though time will tell how well that works in a Republican supermajority that, in many ways, is divided against itself.
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North Dakota Republicans bucked that trend, though, and Congressman Kelly Armstrong's re-election was a part of that.
On this episode of Plain Talk, he argued that, despite Republicans not living up to "red wave" expectations, they've gained ground in the legislative chamber he serves in for three straight election cycles. As for why the NDGOP did better than Republicans nationally? Armstrong said a part of it is because our state's chief industries, agriculture and energy, were a bigger priority than some of the hot-button issues, like abortion, that dominated campaign messaging.
Also, he argued, it didn't help Democratic turnout that the party axed their own House candidate in the middle of the election year.
Armstrong also discussed why he supported Rep. Kevin McCarthy as Speaker of the House for what will presumably be a narrow GOP majority, what Republicans need to do in the next two years to expand on those majorities, and how Congress should handle the war between Ukraine and Russia.
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In Pennsylvania Doug Mastriano, a Trump-endorsed MAGA candidate who fully embraced 2020 election conspiracy theories, lost big in the gubernatorial race. In that state's Senate race, Dr. Mehemet Oz lost to John Fetterman, the Democratic candidate who had a stroke and is, by an objective measure, not fit to serve in office.
In George, Trump-backed Senate candidate Herschel Walker is currently behind the Democratic candidate, and headed for a runoff, even though the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Brian Kemp, a Trump enemy, won his election handily.
In Arizona, Trump-backed Senate candidate Blake Masters lost, and Trump-backed gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake appears to be losing a very close race.
But perhaps the best example is in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where Republicans chose a Trump-backed candidate, John Gibbs, over the incumbent, Peter Meijer, who had voted to impeach Trump. Now Gibbs has lost that race, allowing a Democrat to hold that seat for the first time in 50 years.
On this episode of Plain Talk, Chad Oban and I discuss all of these national election results, and we get very local too. Rick Becker lost big in North Dakota's Senate race. What will he do next?
Former Miss America Cara Mund also lost in a landslide to Republican U.S. House incumbent Kelly Armstrong, though she outperformed the Democratic candidates on the ballot by about 10 points. Will she run again?
And the North Dakota Democratic-NPL has lost ground in the legislature, again, turning a super-minority in the state assembly into, what, a super-super-minority?
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An audit report has found multiple red flags in that transaction, from questions about billing to licensing to whether the taxpayers really came out on top in the deal.
Now the lawmaker who made the deal in the first place, state Rep. Jason Dockter, a Republican from Bismarck, is blasting the auditor's office for what he says was an incomplete and inaccurate report.
"I think we have a trust issue with the state auditor's office," Dockter said on this episode of Plain Talk, referring to the report auditor Josh Gallion presented to lawmakers last month as a "gotcha audit."
Dockter repeatedly made references to controversial audit reports of the State Library and the Commerce Department which drew criticism for Gallion.
Still, Dockter admits there are reasons for raised eyebrows on this deal.
For one, the more than 800-page report (see below) his attorney sent to state officials and the news media in response to the audit indicates that the "informal conversation" between Dockter and an official from the Attorney General's office happened in the state capitol building during the legislative session in which Dockter was serving.
"I have to make a living," Dockter said when asked if he felt it was appropriate for a lawmaker to do business that way. He also downplayed the access to state government that being an elected legislator gives him, saying that he often does business with people he knows personally. "I'm a lifelong resident of Bismarck," he said.
Another red flag was the nearly $250,000 in overpayments made by the State of North Dakota to Dockter's companies. Dockter, who admits that this was not a typical way of doing business, now says his companies will reimburse the taxpayers for those payments, which he said were based on estimates that came in too high.
Asked if what he would do differently if he could go back to the beginning of this deal, he said he would ensure that the invoicing from his companies to the state was less confusing.
He also said he was open to legislation that would require that lawmakers recuse themselves from votes that impact their private business dealings. "I have no problem" with that sort of legislation, he said.
Also on this episode, Wednesday co-host Chad Oban and I discuss our predictions for next week's midterm elections. Will ballot measures implementing term limits and legal marijuana pass or fail? Can independent candidates Rick Becker and Cara Mund win in the Senate and House races, respectively? Listen to find out our thoughts.
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These organizations say legalizing marijuana will hurt public safety. There will be more crime. More inebriated driving.
But that's not so says Diane Goldstein. She's a 21-year veteran of the Redondo Beach Police Department, who retired as a lieutenant, and has spent her post-law enforcement career researching drug policy and advocating for reforms. She joined this episode of Plain Talk, along with pro-Measure 2 campaigner and Fargo-based defense attorney Mark Friese, to rebut the argument coming from some in North Dakota law enforcement.
Goldstein says it's a mistake to compare North Dakota's measure to what happened in California, which decided to open the legal marijuana market up with little in the way of regulation. She said North Dakota's measure contains prudent protections that California didn't contemplate when that state first legalized marijuana more than two decades ago.
Both Friese and Goldstein also pointed out that legalizing marijuana isn't some social experiment anymore. Many states have legalized marijuana now, and have lived with legalization for years, and the evidence shows little in the way of a crime surge.
That's not to say that legalizing marijuana in North Dakota will be a panacea for public safety, Goldstein warned. "We'll never get rid of the black market," she said. But, legalization can mitigate the public safety threat that comes from the marijuana black market and the criminal gangs who serve it.
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Incumbent Senator John Hoeven, who was first elected to that office in 2010, is facing a challenge from Democratic-NPL candidate Katrina Christiansen and independent candidate Rick Becker.
On this episode of Plain Talk, all three candidates met for the first time to debate issues ranging from spending and abortion to carbon capture and support for Ukraine.
My Wednesday co-host, former Democratic-NPL executive director Chad Oban, moderated the debate along with me.
The candidates differed sharply on the issues.
Christiansen accused Becker and Hoeven of belittling the importance of the abortion issue for women. Becker accused both Hoeven and Christiansen of being supporters of big government and big spending. Hoeven, for his part, defended his track record in the Senate and argued that both Becker and Christiansen have distorted it.
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This year, however, there are two PSC seats up for grabs. Commissioner Julie Fedorchak is running for re-election at the end of her six-year term, while Sheri Haugen-Hoffart, a Republican who was appointed by Gov. Doug Burgum to finish an unexpired term, is running per state law to have that appointment confirmed by the voters.
Challenging Haugen-Hoffart is Democratic-NPL candidate Trygve Hammer.
Both Hammer and Haugen-Hoffart joined this episode of Plain Talk to debate the issues in their race, from grid reliability and climate change to rail safety and pipelines. I moderated the debate, and asked the questions, along with my co-host Chad Oban, a former executive director of the Democratic-NPL.
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This group is making a number of claims about the ill that would befall our state if legal pot is the law of the land. They're talking about increased crime. Increased addiction. Easy access to the drug for children.
On this episode of Plain Talk, Fargo-based defense attorney Mark Friese, who is the treasurer for the pro-marijuana campaign, and who had a hand in drafting the measure itself, spoke to some of those criticisms.
Also, guest co-host Jamie Selzler and I talk about a recent incident where Bismarck School Board member Emily Eckroth allegedly urinated in the back of a police car, and what that incident says about how willing the public is to tolerate bad behavior from elected officials. We also discussed the controversy around U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker, and the emerging opposition to a term limits ballot measure that's also on the statewide ballot.
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