On Monday, Nov. 8, thousands of North Dakotans gathered in front of the Capitol for the We The People Rally. The rally ended with organizer Jared Hendrix asking people to attend the press conference inside. Approximately 300 of the rally goers moved inside to do just that.
That morning, Rep. Chet Pollert (R-Dis. 29, Carrington), House Majority Leader, had sent out an email announcing the 3 p.m. press conference in the Memorial Hall, specifically for the purpose of responding to the rally and to discuss the special session and delayed bills.
“There was a giant line to get inside and through the metal detectors. We asked for directions to the press conference,” said Michelle Bigler of Steele. “We followed the sound of the people and were given the instructions, ‘Up the stairs.’” The security arrangements inside the Hall that afternoon included the presence of North Dakota Highway Patrolmen as well as additional security.
“We followed the sound of the people and were given the instructions, ‘Up the stairs.’” Michelle Bigler of Steele
However, the crowd waited more than an hour without any sign of the press conference beginning. Eventually, rally Master of Ceremonies Chris Berg told the crowd that the press conference had already taken place at 2:30 p.m. down in the press room. Rep. Pollert had sent a text message at 2:31 p.m. indicating the change of location and time.
Berg, reporting for WZFG AM 1100, managed to catch three minutes of the press conference that did take place. At the end, Berg asked Rep. Pollert and Sen. Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R-Dis. 37, Dickinson), “There’s a bunch of people upstairs, would you like to go and chat with them?” Sen. Wardner and Rep. Pollert declined.
When asked later about the two press conferences, Rep. Pollert said, “[Memorial Hall] was never officially lined up that I knew of. We were told to be in the Press Room, and that’s where we went. Rep. [Scott] Louser [R-Dis. 5, Minot, Assistant Majority Leader] said we were due to speak in the Hall, but my staffer said we were on the agenda for the Press Room, so that’s where we went.” Pollert later visited with some of the remaining crowd and members of the media.
“We were respectfully, patiently waiting for the press conference to start when we found out that the respect was not mutual." Salesha Olson, Larimore
Upstairs the crowd was dispersing amid an air of frustration. Salesha Olson, Larimore, stated, “We were respectfully, patiently waiting for the press conference to start when we found out that the respect was not mutual. I’m very disappointed right now.” Shailyn Olson added, “The fact that some of the people representing us won’t even talk to us was very disappointing.”
Even later in the afternoon, Sen. Wardner called in to WZFG to discuss the change. “It was changed because of [Rep.] Pollert’s schedule. I was not aware that it was supposed to even be in the hallway. I was told to be in the Press Room and that’s where I went.” He went on to explain, “It was a press conference for the press. I’ll tell you what, a lot of those people wanted to probably get a piece of our hide. They have been frustrated. I don’t know what would have happened. The people are naïve and don’t know how we do things. It’s Washington that’s the problem. We have little to say about what they do when it comes to mandating the vaccine. They control the purse strings.”
For more coverage of last week’s special legislative session, see the following: