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Plain Talk With Rob Port

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, 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.

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Latest Episodes
332: Dem Sec. of State candidate says "election integrity" is Republican code for "voter suppression"
Fri May 20 12:35:12 EDT 2022
Jeffrey Powell is an administrator at Mayville State University and the Democratic-NPL candidate for Secretary of State. He was endorsed by the party's executive committee (he made a late decision to run so didn't attend the party's state convention in Minot) and in November will be facing off against one of two potential Republican candidates.

State Rep. Michael Howe is squaring off with Bismarck mechanic Marvin Lepp in the NDGOP primary.

Powell has been watching that race, and on this episode of Plain Talk, said it frustrates him when the Republican candidates talk about "election integrity," arguing that's a "code word for voter suppression."

He said the primary job of a Secretary of State is to protect the right of the people to vote, and accused Republican lawmakers of enacting laws to suppress votes in past legislative sessions.

Powell also spoke about running as a Democrat in a state that has become deeply Republican over the last couple of decades. He said there is a "sense of fear" among Democrats who think about running for office in North Dakota. He acknowledged that both Republicans and Democrats have become more extreme in recent years, but that the alleged danger is "more keenly felt by people who are more likely to be Democrats."

Powell said he hasn't personally felt any danger in running for office.

Also on this episode, Dickinson-based oil worker Riley Kuntz, who is challenging incumbent U.S. Senator John Hoeven for the NDGOP's primary nomination, spoke about why he decided to mount what he admits is a long-shot bid to defeat one of North Dakota's most popular political figures.

He said he was disappointed state Rep. Rick Becker, who challenged Hoeven at the NDGOP's state convention, wasn't successful and felt he had to continue the challenge to Hoeven.

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331: On the midterms, and North Dakota's legislative primaries
Wed May 18 11:15:36 EDT 2022
This year's primaries, from local legislative races to the national midterms, are in many ways a referendum on the influence of disgraced former President Donald Trump and his movement's on-going influence on the GOP.

What did we learn after this week's primary elections? And the fundraising numbers we're seeing in North Dakota's Republican legislative primaries so far?

We talked about it on this episode of Plain Talk. Matt Lewis, senior columnist for the Daily Beast and host of the Matt Lewis and the News podcast, joined to discuss the national races. Wednesday co-host Chad Oban and I discussed the more local races, where traditional or "establishment" legislative candidates seem to have an edge.

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330: North Dakota's regional haze debate and a Fargo City Commission candidate
Mon May 16 12:15:00 EDT 2022
When it comes to regulating air quality - both in terms of health and cosmetic measures like visibility - North Dakota does an excellent job.

We have some of the cleanest air in the nation. Ours is one of only four states to have never violated a federal air quality standard protecting health or the environment. We've been building on that excellent record too. "Since 2002, total emissions from coal-powered electricity generation plants in North Dakota were reduced by 102,000 tons of sulfur dioxide, or 72%, and 41,600 tons of nitrogen oxide, down 55%," Patrick Springer reported last month.

Despite this, the Biden administration argues that North Dakota's state-level management of regional haze isn't good enough. They want to layer more federal regulations on top through the EPA's Regional Haze Program.

Mack McGuffey, an attorney who specializes in this area of environmental policy and is representing North Dakota's Lignite Energy Council, joined this episode of Plain Talk to discuss the issue. He and his client are encouraging the public to provide public comment to the EPA, something you can do through, a website set up by the LEC to inform and facilitate that process.

Matour Alier, who is running for the Fargo City Commission, also joined this episode. We talked about his objections to a recent column of mine that was critical of him, how a local candidate can stand out in a field of 15 contenders, and his experiences as a refugee who went from living in a camp for a decade to being a home owner in North Dakota.

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329: Sen. Cramer talks Roe v. Wade, January 6, food shortages, and Ukraine
Fri May 06 11:01:35 EDT 2022
Minot, N.D. — Will the U.S. Supreme Court strike down the Roe v. Wade precedent and make bans on abortions constitutional again?

Will the federal government create new law regarding abortion, either codifying it as legal or creating national restrictions?

And what are the political ramifications for all this?

Sen. Kevin Cramer discussed these issues on this episode of Plain Talk.

He also reacted to my recent interview with New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin whose new book contains an anecdote about January 6 which includes Cramer.

We also discussed the situation in Ukraine, from the potential for food shortages as war ravages one of the world's great agriculture producers, to the increasingly assertive role America is playing in the conflict.

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328: NY Times reporter previews new book, and a discussion of the political implications of ending Roe
Wed May 04 12:55:25 EDT 2022
On January 6, as rioters were infiltrating the U.S. Capitol building, New York Times reporter Jonathan Martin was in the building with many of our national leaders like Sen. Ted Cruz and Sen. Kevin Cramer.

He and co-author Alexander Burns tell that story in a new book, just released this week, called "This Will Not Pass: Trump, Biden, and the Battle for America's Future."

Martin spoke with co-host Chad Oban and I about what it was like to watch some of our nation's most recognizable political figures react to the riot in real-time as part of a larger narrative about the transition from the Trump era to Biden's current presidency.

I wrote about an excerpt from Martin's book, describing Cramer's response to the riots, in a column earlier this week.

Also on this episode, Chad and I discuss the political implications over the U.S. Supreme Court overturning the Roe v. Wade precedent.

The debate over abortion is one thing, but the shift of that debate from the judiciary and back into the arena of democracy, where it would be settled by governors and state legislatures across the country has the potential to be one of the most profound turn of events in a generation or two of American politics.

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327: Nobel laureate says Biden canceling Keystone pipeline was "symbol" that led to higher gas prices
Mon May 02 11:46:20 EDT 2022
When President Joe Biden, as one of his first moves in office, canceled the Keystone XL pipeline it was "a symbol" for the oil and gas industry that the political situation would be hostile to them in the coming years.

That lead them to curtail their investments in new production capacity, something that, per Smith, speaking on this episode of Plain Talk, is now contributing to higher fuel prices and a higher cost of living for Americans.

Cheap energy is of enormous interest, not just to Americans but to the whole world, Dr. Smith says. "Cheap energy is the solution to poverty," he said, casting the debates on energy issues as a "conflict between the reduction of poverty and the interest in reducing carbon emissions."

Though he says the world can't ignore climate issues, he has a hard time ranking them above the goal of lifting people out of poverty.

Dr. Smith has also done extensive research in the role of trust, love, and empathy in a society, and spoke about those issues in the context of our low-trust society and political environment.

He will be speaking about these topics more at a Tuesday, May 3, talk sponsored by North Dakota State University's Sheila and Robert Challey Institute for Global Innovation and Growth. If you want to participate in Dr. Smith's lecture, which will be part of the Menard Family Distinguished Speakers Series, visit the Challey Institute's page on the NDSU website.

326: Landowners want a better deal on the Midwest Carbon Express pipeline
Fri Apr 29 11:48:42 EDT 2022
Carbon capture and storage is a big deal for North Dakota. Not just because our state's economy is dominated by commodity-based industries - energy and agriculture - that emit a lot of carbon, but because the geology under our feet lends itself to storing captured carbon.

There are billions in investments lined across several projects to not only capture and store carbon emitted in our state, but to bring carbon from other parts of the world here for storage as well.

One of the first major projects is the Midwest Carbon Express pipeline, proposed by Iowa-based Summit Carbon Solutions, which would bring carbon emitted by ethanol plants across the upper midwest to our state for storage.

Only, some landowners say the company hasn't been doing a good job at winning them over. On this episode of Plain Talk, Daryl Lies, the president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau, said some landowners had Summit Carbon representatives poking around on their land without permission. Kurt Swenson, himself a landowner who is in the process of negotiating with Summit, says the deals the company wants, and which North Dakota law allows, takes too much from landowners and doesn't compensate nearly high enough.

These are important things, both men argue, because the future of the emerging carbon capture and storage industry in North Dakota hinges on how these first deals play out.

Wed Apr 27 12:27:15 EDT 2022
Minot, N.D. — Sen. Jessica Bell, a Republican from District 33, has a lengthy track record of reliably conservative policy making in the North Dakota Senate, which includes her consequential work to save a coal-fired power plant that employs, directly and indirectly, thousands of her constituents.

Yet the delegates at the NDGOP's local district convention didn't endorse her for re-election. Instead they endorsed a man named Keith Boehm, who campaigned against Bell based on her votes against a bill regulating transgender participation in North Dakota school activities.

How did a culture war issue come to be so much more important than jobs and taxes and sound governance? Sen. Bell talked about it on this episode of Plain Talk.

"It was a bad bill," she said in explanation of her vote on the transgender activities issue. "It was poorly written."

She said North Dakota's elected officials ought to be focused on issues important to North Dakota, and not national culture war issues. "Just because we saw it on Fox News doesn't mean it's appropriate," she said.

She added that she does appreciate the challenge, however, in that it gives her the opportunity to talk about her work in the Senate. It is "pushing me to be better," she said.

Also on this episode, Wednesday co-host Chad Oban and I talk about the roots of the controversy around the Midwest Carbon Express pipeline, Elon Musk's purchase of Twitter, and Sen. Ray Holmberg resigning from the Senate amid controversy.

324: Shouldn't a constitutional amendment require 60 percent of the vote?
Mon Apr 25 10:01:40 EDT 2022
North Dakota's initiated measure process has become a venue for deep-pocketed special interests to hire local fronts, pay mercenaries to collect signatures, and then pound their issues into the heads of voters with big-money marketing campaigns.

What was intended to empower grassroots activists to keep state government honest has turned into a shortcut for political professionals to pretty much bypass the rigors and scrutiny of the legislative process.

It is in this context that a new ballot measure, which seeks to reform the initiated measure process, enters the debate. The organizers have just submitted their signatures to Secretary of State Al Jaeger's office, and they're waiting on approval, but if passed by voters this measure would require that constitutional amendments get 60 percent of the statewide vote instead of a mere simple majority.

It would also require that proposed amendments be limited to just one subject.

It's an idea that "resonates with North Dakotans," Jeff Zarling from Protect North Dakota's Constitution, the group behind the measure, said on this episode of Plain Talk. Zarling, along with former North Dakota Adj. General Mike Haugen, is leading the group.

He's spent the last year gathering signatures for his group's measure. "People were appalled that it takes a simple majority to amend the constitution," he told me.

"Why should the constitution not have more respect than statutory law?"

Zarling also made the point that, in these polarized times, a requirement that a proposed amendment to our state constitution garner a greater degree of consensus before becoming law isn't such a bad idea. "This isn't a partisan issue. This is a North Dakota issue. People want more moderation," he said.

323: Fargo commission candidate says mayor's emails to detectives crossed "ethical boundaries"
Fri Apr 22 12:19:07 EDT 2022
Minot, N.D. — Ves Marinov serves the state of North Dakota as a member of the Highway Patrol. He's also a citizen of Fargo who is running for a city on the city's commission.

He's campaigning on a platform of addressing crime, eliminating special assessments, moving the city to a ward system for its elected leaders, and making the city more efficient.

But it's that first issue, given his day job, that Marinov, a new American from Bulgaria who immigrated in 2003, is most passionate about.

"Crime has been rising," he said on this episode of Plain Talk. "We can't solve that by turning our police departments into another social services department."

Recently I wrote a story about Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney, who holds the portfolio for policing issues for the city commission, emailing with Fargo Police Department detectives regarding what authorities describe as a robbery incident in which the mayor's son was the victim. In his emails, Mahoney told detectives not to follow a particular lead and suggested other leads to follow as if he were a member of the investigation team.

Mahoney defended his actions to me, and Fargo Police Chief Dave Zibolski didn't see a problem either, but Marinov says that crossed a line. He said it's a "clear example" of one person having too much power over the city's law enforcement. "All the oversight is coming from the mayor," Marinov said. With regard to the investigation involving the mayor's son, "I feel that some ethical boundaries were crossed."

Also on this episode, Fahad Nazer, the spokesman for the Saudi Arabian embassy in Washington D.C., joins to talk about something North Dakota, America, and Saudi Arabia all care about, which is promoting stable oil markets.