North Dakota head of far-right legislative caucus retiring
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Bismarck Rep. Rick Becker, who founded a far-right faction of the North Dakota Legislature and led it for a decade, has announced he won’t seek another term.
The Bismarck plastic surgeon, commercial real estate developer, business owner and former gubernatorial candidate, said in an emotional address on his local television show Wednesday night that he will retire from the Legislature when his current term ends in December.
“It’s been 10 years, it’s time,” Becker told The Associated Press Thursday. His family, businesses and other obligations has had him contemplating retiring from the legislation for about a year, he said.
“When you’re burning the candle at both ends, you eventually run out of wax,” Becker told the AP.
Becker, 57, said he would not comment or rule out on a potential run for a statewide office in North Dakota.
In the conservative state where the Republicans have supermajorities in both houses and hold every statewide office, Becker has relished in being redder than red. Just this week, the nonprofit Washington, D.C.-based American Conservation Union gave Becker the only perfect rating for conservatism in North Dakota, he said.
First elected in 2012, Becker formed during his first legislative session the Bastiat Causcus, named after French political philosopher Frederic Bastiat. The loosely organized group fervently supports limited government and spending and privacy and gun rights.
Becker said the group has grown from a handful of members to as many as 30, though the membership has never been publicly disclosed.
“We’ve gone from being a minor nuisance and being ridiculed to a behind-the-scenes force,” Becker said. “We have been a countering balance.”
Becker has been a vocal critic of spending by the Legislature, which has passed record-setting budgets in most of the past several sessions.
House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, who also announced this month he is retiring from the Legislature, said his dealings with Becker and most in the caucus have been largely cordial.
Pollert said more moderate Republicans in the House clearly differed on the priorities for state spending.
“They never had enough votes who thought their way,” Pollert said.
Becker has been especially critical of Republican Gov. Doug Burgum who has promised to “reinvent government,” shake up the “good old boy” party establishment and control “runaway spending.”
He also was one of the few lawmakers who publicly criticized the wealthy former software executive for helping bankroll a political action campaign that set it sights on defeating some members of his own party, in an attempt to buy a Legislature more obliging to his wishes.
Becker said Bastiat Caucus can tout many legislative successes, including a sheaf of pro-gun bills highlighted by one that allows citizens the right to carry concealed weapons without a permit.
“We’ve accomplished substantial things,” Becker said.
He said the emergence of the Bastiat Caucus has splintered the state party in the past decade, in what he called a civil war between the far right and rank-and-file Republicans.
The intraparty fight came to a head last year over the successful recall a legislator and member of the ultraconservative caucus accused of sexually harassing women at the state Capitol.
Of 80 House Republicans, 55 voted to expel Luke Simons. Some GOP lawmakers were formally condemned at the district level for backing the expulsion and one was the the subject of an unsuccessful recall. The incident has caused some ultra conservatives to seek to control the party apparatus and replace Republicans they see as too moderate.
Becker believes his caucus is rightly follows the GOP platform.
“It’s extremely straightforward: we believe in limited government and keeping spending down to only what’s necessary,” Becker said. “We are all reading from the same platform, the only difference is my camp is always looking through the conservative lens of that platform.”
Becker said any number of members of his caucus can carry on its mission, once he’s gone.
“I think I’ve created an environment where the caucus can be successful and people feel comfortable standing up for principal,” Becker said.