One of North Dakota’s two Republicans seeking the nomination for governor said Saturday in Dickinson that the state’s next leader will be faced with cutting $1.5 billion in appropriations spending out of its general fund.
State Rep. Rick Becker pointed to declining oil revenues and low, stagnant agriculture commodity prices for what he feels is a massive spending cut looming in the 2017 legislative session.
“We find ourselves in a situation where the status quo of what we’ve been doing and our level of spending isn’t going to work anymore,” Becker told about two dozen people who gathered for a town hall campaign stop at the Astoria Hotel and Event Center in Dickinson
Becker, a Mandan plastic surgeon who was elected to the state House of Representatives in 2012, spoke for an hour about why he should be North Dakota’s next governor. He said he views himself as an “underdog” and a “non-establishment” candidate compared to state Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem, who announced his candidacy in November and is viewed by most Republicans as the favorite to not only win their nomination, but also next November’s election.
When asked a question by an audience member about the state’s fight against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on water and coal issues — which Stenehjem has led — Becker said he agrees with his opponent on keeping the federal government out of North Dakota’s business.
“I think he should continue fighting the fight as attorney general. We need him there,” he said to laughter.
Becker spent about an hour emphasizing his beliefs in small government as audience members peppered him with questions.
He called for moving the state away from the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium testing methods for K-12 education, saying it aligns too closely with Common Core standards. He said the state’s higher education system should focus more strongly on getting North Dakota students on campus, and less on building projects and growing enrollment. He also said he’s a “big believer” in a flat income tax.
Luke Simons, a rancher from rural Dickinson who was in the audience, said he believes Becker has a “phenomenal” voting record, and compared his grass-roots campaign efforts to U.S. Rep. Kevin Cramer, who used the same tactic to earn the Republican nomination in 2012.
“Kevin Cramer was not an establishment man,” Simons said. “I campaigned for him. Kevin Cramer went to the people. … You have a choice and the people spoke.”
Becker said he’s using that tactic and hopes to reach as many voters as he can face to face before the Republican state convention next April.
“What I’m finding is what I’m saying is ringing true so much with people that they’re suddenly open to the idea that government can run like they think it should be run,” Becker said.
State Reps. Mike Lefor and Mike Schatz, along with Sen. Kelly Armstrong, the state GOP chairman, all attended Becker’s event but declined comment.
John Enderle, who farms north of Taylor and is the chairman of the District 36 Republican Party, said he likes both Becker and Stenehjem, but added his political ideology aligns more strongly with Becker.
“With his personality, his drive and ideas, I think governor is the most logical place (for Becker),” Enderle said.