NDGOP Debate: Does Doug Burgum Believe What He Says About Government Handouts?


I was told that video from last night’s NDGOP-sponsored debate among the Republican gubernatorial candidates would be online today, but I can’t seem to find it anywhere. When or if I do I’ll update this post with it for those of you who missed it.

It is worth watching.

I feel like as this race has unfolded I’ve spent a lot of time banging on just one of the candidates. Namely, Doug Burgum. And I’ve heard from some of you that you think this demonstrates a bias on my part, be it just against Burgum or for one of the other candidates.

I think last night kind of proved why I spend so much time focused on Burgum. The other two candidates in this race are the political equivalent of meatloaf. I don’t mean that as a pejorative; they’re both fine candidates.

Becker is the conservative/libertarian idealist who is probably too far to the right for even most Republican voters (sorry, but it’s true), and Stenehjem is the typical Republican moderate.

Both of them have established governing track records to back up their campaign rhetoric. We can take what they say and measure it against what they have done as elected leaders. And what they’re saying is about what you’d expect them to say, which makes it hard to write anything all that interesting about them.

And then we have Burgum, who is a newcomer to this process and has never held any political office before. He’s interesting, all the more so because he seems to have undergone a significant transformation over the last couple of weeks.

Suddenly the multi-millionaire who is known for not dressing up – he wore jeans at his campaign announcement – is in a suit and a tie. And his rhetoric is suddenly a lot further to the right too, at least on fiscal issues.

Case in point, check out this tweet from his campaign account quoting Burgum from last night’s debate:

That’s good, solid red meat for conservatives right? The sort of thing you’d expect someone seeking the Republican endorsement to say. Burgum’s campaign posted this, too, during the debate:

Again, some bloody red meat. But does Burgum believe it? Let’s turn back the clock to not-so-long-ago November when Burgum was speaking to a meeting with City of Fargo leaders. As you can see in the video below, Fargo City Commissioner Tony Gehrig (his audio is really quiet, sorry) is questioning Burgum about city subsidies for development. Gehrig would like to avoid using city policy to shape the sort of development which happens in Fargo.

Burgum is arguing that subsidies are needed to promote denser development, particularly downtown development (which he has large financial interests in),because that’s the right kind of development.

“The free market won’t deliver that,” Burgum says.

“It’s been really tough to make money in downtown Fargo,” he adds. And subsidies for downtown development makes profits there easier, I guess.

But how do you reconcile those words Burgum spoke to Fargo city leaders before he was a political candidate with the words he’s speaking as candidate campaigning for the Republican gubernatorial nomination?

I’m not sure you can. You can’t oppose running to the government to fix problems, you can’t chastise government handouts for special interests, when you’ve built a development business in downtown Fargo around government subsidies.

Just last week one of Burgum’s companies – the Kilbourne Group – put up a post on their website defending PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) incentives for economic development, and admitted along the way that the company will be getting about $300,000 per year in such incentives for two of their projects.

It’s ironic, isn’t it, that while the owner of the company is on the campaign trail bashing government handouts, and deriding the use of government to fix problems, the company itself is touting incentive programs aimed at fixing development?

There’s a word for that. It’s called hypocrisy.

Burgum also continues to be something less than forthcoming about his position on abortion. Last night’s spin on the issue was that he’d leave it all up to a vote of the people:

“Burgum said he rejects labels and as governor he would ensure that any abortion-related bill would be put to a statewide vote,” Mike Nowatzki reports.

The problem is, if the Legislature sends an abortion bill to Burgum’s desk as governor, his choices are to sign it or veto it. He can’t just immediately call for a referendum. The law doesn’t allow for that.

Burgum should just shoot straight on abortion. It’s the sort of issue where, no matter what stance you take, you’re probably going to tick off one faction or another. But what’s worse than that is dancing around the issue and making yourself look disingenuous.

And speaking of disingenuous, check out this exchange on Twitter last night. The Burgum campaign put this out, slamming the other candidates for not working in the private sector. The campaign deleted it, but I saved a screen shot:


I pointed out that Burgum seemed to be forgetting that Rep. Rick Becker was on stage. Becker, a plastic surgeon, has owned multiple businesses during his career including his own practice:

So the Burgum campaign came out with an edited quote, adding the word “thousands.”

I do not have the video available to go back and see whether or not Burgum said “thousands”, but I am pretty sure the quote from the first tweet was the accurate one.

So, the Burgum campaign engaging in some small-ball history revision, I guess.