NDGOP Chairman Apologizes To Party Leadership, Elected Leaders For Oil Regulation Comments

Over the weekend I obtained an email sent out by North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Bob Harms to the NDGOP executive committee as well as Republican statewide elected leaders (which is all of them) and the Senate and House majority leaders. In the email, Harms apologizes for the appearance that his comments about slowing down oil development were reported as coming from the head of the party.

The “[c]omments were mine alone—not those of the party, nor those of any client,” Harms, who is also a registered lobbyist for several interests in the state including an environmental advocacy group, said in the email. He said the comments were a “misstep on my part for not recognizing the story could be tabbed with a Republican label” and that “it won’t happen again.”

Harms also addressed the issue of his lobbying while serving as the chairman of the party. When I asked Harms in an interview over the weekend whether or not his lobbying was a conflict with his partisan activities, he told me “absolutely.” Here’s what he told North Dakota’s top Republicans:

Since becoming Chairman I have made it my personal policy (which I believe I have always followed) to not bring my professional (lobbying) issues into a meeting where I serve as chairman. I have always tried to keep those two roles completely separate. (If we are doing Party business—I have never put my lobbyist hat on to address an issue on behalf of a client). If I meet with elected officials—I ask for the meeting through normal channels and let the official know who I am representing.

By the way, I don’t represent any client in my lobbying practice whose cause I don’t fully support.

“I’m pro-oil and pro-North Dakota,” Harms said in conclusion of the email. “I believe practicing good stewardship is consistent with Republican ideals and what ND people want.”

Republican leaders I spoke to over the weekend were, needless to say, upset with Harms’ comments. What’s interesting is that it wasn’t so much the content of Harms’ comments that upset, but rather that they were branded as coming from the North Dakota Republican Party by way of its top spokesman. There are feelings that Harms should move on from the chairmanship, but fears that such a move would make it look like the party was punishing someone who “dared to speak out against the oil industry,” as one Republican elected official told me.

Harms also as a guest post on the blog today further clarifying his comments.

Here’s the full email:

Dear Elected Officials and Executive Committee members,

You may have seen or heard of my personal comments made a few days ago to a Reuters reporter following the train-derailment in Casselton, ND. There is chatter on SayAnything Blog. (I spoke with Rob Port yesterday afternoon—and the full interview is on line).

1. Comments were mine alone—not those of the party, nor those of any client. (In fact—during the Reuters interview, the words, “Republican”, “Republican Party”, “chairman” were never mentioned. I described myself as a lawyer, former governor’s counsel being raised in Tioga. (I’ve spoken to the press many times relating to the oil industry). A misstep on my part for not recognizing the story could be tabbed with a Republican label. My mistake—-it won’t happen again.

2. Lobbying—-and conflict of interest: Since becoming Chairman I have made it my personal policy (which I believe I have always followed) to not bring my professional (lobbying) issues into a meeting where I serve as chairman. I have always tried to keep those two roles completely separate. (If we are doing Party business—I have never put my lobbyist hat on to address an issue on behalf of a client). If I meet with elected officials—I ask for the meeting through normal channels and let the official know who I am representing.

By the way, I don’t represent any client in my lobbying practice whose cause I don’t fully support.

3. I said, again as a private citizen, North Dakota was lucky no one in Casselton was hurt. The steps being taken by official regarding oil tank safety, rail safety, development of pipeline systems were all correct steps and that we should take a “MODERATED APPROACH” as we move forward. I did not suggest solutions in Reuters—-but did suggest to Rob Port we have a thoughtful conversation moving forward in ND, and evaluate a host of policies, including

a. Require oil companies to submit a road maintenance program along with drilling permit applications.

b. Better reviews for rail safety.

c. Requirements for safer rail cars to transport oil in.

d. Build out pipeline infrastructure.

e. Review how oil development on state lands is managed.

f. Require oil companies to submit a plan for handling gas flaring.

4.And in Reuters and in SayAnything Blog—-I urged we not over-react to any of this. (That’s my thought today as well…..we should have a calm thoughtful discussion for our state as we go forward).

5. I’m pro-oil and pro-North Dakota. I believe practicing good stewardship is consistent with Republican ideals and what ND people want.

Robert W. Harms
Chairman
NDGOP

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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