North Dakota Democrats Are Goldbricking on the Gay Rights Debate


Rep. Joshua Boschee, D-Fargo, listens to Human Services Committee Chairman Rep. Robin Weisz, R-Hurdsfield, answer a question he posed during the floor debate on HB1386 at the state Capitol on 2-10-2017. The bill, prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, was defeated 22-69.

Earlier this month legislation to prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and/or gender identity failed in the state Legislature for the fourth consecutive time.

After that latest failure I asked a question: Why do Democrats keep trying to win this policy fight by doing the same thing over and over again? For more than eight years now Democrats have introduced essentially the same bill in the Legislature repeatedly only to see it suffer the same outcome.

Why don’t Democrats try something new? Like introducing more than one bill, each one encompassing a part of the policy they’re trying to implement, giving the Republican majority an opportunity to perhaps find some parts of it they can live with? Or putting the issue on the ballot through the initiated measure process?

It seems to me like Democrats, for all importance they place on this issue, are doing the bare minimum to advance it.

State Rep. Josh Boschee, who is North Dakota’s first openly gay lawmaker and has made this issue his personal hobby horse, was asked about that by reporter Sam Easter, and his response leaves a lot to be desired:

For now, the future of LGBT rights is unclear in North Dakota. Rep. Joshua Boschee, D-Fargo, the primary sponsor of HB 1386, said LGBT advocates will need to discuss their next move — do they introduce the bill again in two years or do they move to get it on a statewide ballot.

Though the bill already has been considered four times, Boschee still cautions against putting it to a public vote.

“It’s something that would have to have some really deep consideration by stakeholders and folks involved,” said Boschee, the state’s first openly gay legislator. “Our country has had a long history of folks fighting for civil rights, but putting people’s rights on a ballot is not a road we want to go down.”

That makes zero sense. An initiated measure would amend state statute. The exact same thing Boschee is trying to do with the bills he keeps introducing over and over again in the Legislature. He is already acknowledging that these “rights” can be legislated in statute. What does it matter if they’re legislated in Bismarck or at the ballot box?

Boschee makes a distinction without a difference in arguing against the initiated measure process, and the only possible motivation I can see for it is a desire to keep this issue as a potent fundraising weapon.

If this issue gets resolved to any degree then Boschee’s status as one of his state party’s top fundraisers is diminished, as is a good deal of his campaign platform.

I have no idea if North Dakota voters would vote for this sort of an initiated measure, but they might surprise us. They did on the medical marijuana issue last year. And even failed initiated measures can build momentum for some level of progress in the Legislature.

While I personally have little love for the initiated measure process, even I can acknowledge that there is some utility in using it to put an issue before voters which lawmakers have rejected multiple times.