A Friend, Mentor, and Man with a Vision for North Dakota
Robert Hale loved North Dakota. More than anyone, he helped me see the extraordinary potential that exists in North Dakota. That realization led me to be involved in dozens of campaigns and in organizing grassroots citizens around numerous causes. Bob taught me important lessons that I will carry for the rest of my life. Many others can say the same – and collectively we see Bob’s contributions to the politics of our state are both significant and long-lasting.
In October 2011, I traveled from my home state of Virginia to North Dakota to work on Ron Paul’s presidential campaign. Paul ignited a national movement around America’s first principles and a ground-up reinvigoration of constitutional republicanism. A mutual friend told me to meet Bob, an ardent supporter of Dr. Paul’s campaign. It was the beginning of a decade-long friendship that was sadly cut short when Bob left this world on November 18th, 2021.
A Mentor for Many Who Left a Legacy for All
When I faced a difficult decision, I asked Bob for advice and he never hesitated to help. His Christian faith and Catholic beliefs were integral to his life and worldview. This was the character he maintained: truthfulness, directness, hard work, and a selfless service to community and others. Bob was always there for his friends.
Bob had a knack for cutting through peripheral factors that can cloud judgement. His advice was valuable – not because he knew everything – rather because he taught me how to better reason and make decisions for myself. He pushed others to exercise free will to develop clear positions and make decisions. He said this was a particularly masculine trait, as history shows that weak men without resolution offer nothing but uncertainty to those who depend on them in times of need. How much evil in history took place when good men simply failed to act?
Bob wrote often – notably for the Minot Daily News, and the Fitzgerald Griffin Foundation. As many readers will attest, Bob called it like he saw it, and was not afraid to put someone he deemed corrupt in his crosshairs. He believed it was useless to employ diplomatic verbiage at the expense of truth. He was blunt because it’s a waste of time to not state exactly what we mean.
Bob was stubborn, and could be argumentative to a fault. If someone failed to use consistent and precise terms, he would shut them down. I found this initially unnerving, but now I understand that he was teaching me to communicate clearly and to establish – for an audience or readership – a mutual understanding of terms, in order to accurately understand another’s view.
Bob taught me that morality, established and protected by a strong culture, was an essential prerequisite to a truly free society. Republicanism cannot function absent a moral foundation and strong culture because there is an inverse relationship between limited government and self government. This moved me further from secular belief and social liberalism, and strengthened my belief in a higher power.
“Mr. Smith” Comes From Washington State
Bob was active in North Dakota, Washington state, and national politics. He fought against excessive bureaucracy and in favor of protecting property rights through his Northwest Legal Foundation, and while serving on the Legal Strategies Forum of the Heritage Foundation. He maintained CLE credits through the Federalist Society. Over the years, he brought many lawsuits protecting the rights of citizens against cronyism, excessive regulation, and government theft of property. Some were successful, others were not.
Bob strongly defended the fact that public funds belonged to the people – not the politicians – and that monies designated for specific purposes should not be shifted to serve political ends. He won a lawsuit against the city of Minot involving the illegal diversion of the interest on the Northwest Area Water Supply (NAWS) funds into the city’s general fund. The declaratory judgement brought forward stated that the misuse of NAWS funds was intended to offset a “deficit caused by overspending economic development monies”.
In 2011, he co-authored a book called ‘Property Tax Revolution’ – calling for the abolition of property taxes in North Dakota. This treatise includes a plan for implementation, and illustrates how Bob approached every issue. He first established a moral and practical truth, challenged its assertion to counter arguments, and then pragmatically navigated to a detailed solution. He had little patience for those who, far too commonly, offer complaints about problems without solutions.
In a May 2016 column, Bob wrote that… “America [has] …problems needing actual solutions rather than ideological ones… [and this] is seen by ideologues as arrogance. This should surprise no one who has actually accomplished anything in life. The greatest challenge is posed by the know-it-all bureaucrats who get in the way of solutions and problem solvers. They do so behind the cloak of government and take no personal responsibility; they have rarely, if ever, accomplished anything in their lives other than playing political gamesmanship.”
Bob led the charge behind Measure 2 in 2012, which would have abolished property taxes. The campaign pitted him against an agglomeration of special interests – government bureaucrats, crony capitalists, taxpayer-funded lobbyists, and unions. A web of lies was woven by these opponents, most of which have become unraveled in subsequent years, as valuations have risen, and reforms were rejected by many people who promised them. As Bob predicted, the state government continued to pile billions of tax dollars in various buckets, while special interest spending and per capita welfare has skyrocketed. All the while North Dakotans have received little, if any, tax relief or public benefit. In short, Bob was vilified but now vindicated.
Eliminating property taxes, for Bob, is not a mere exercise in political philosophy. Rather, it is a precondition for a dynamic future that would diversify North Dakota’s economy and fuel long-term growth for decades. In Bob’s last column in July 2021, he wrote: “North Dakota is a leading agricultural provider both to our 50-state country as well as a net exporter of agricultural products as well as oil, gas and electrical energy… [and] has a wealth of fresh water – both surface water as well as millions of acres of aquifers… we are blessed with millions of acres of open spaces and four seasons… [we are] close to major metropolitan markets and our connection via rail and highways makes North Dakota an ideal location to import raw materials, transform them and export the finished goods for both domestic use and international trade. In short, North Dakota has the potential to become a major world manufacturing hub.”
In 2002, a statewide referendum allowed voters to decide if banks and other financial institutions could share or sell personal data without obtaining customer permission. Bob helped organize a cross-partisan coalition of people to fight the referendum. Predictably, much of the Bismarck “Old Guard”, along with the entire banking and credit union system, fought against our privacy rights. Despite being outspent 3 to 1, voters defeated the referendum with a 73% NO vote. Bob’s work on both ballot issues strengthened his view that the initiative and referral powers reserved to the people must remain strong, in order to counterbalance Bismarck’s political echo chamber and special interests.
Battling the Establishment Bullies
Bob believed that those who use government power to advance their own special interest at the expense of the taxpayer, are bullies. In the victim, bullying leads to frustration, a lack of self confidence, apprehension and uncertainty. In the extremity, these human conditions can either lead to a cycle of oppression, or it can be channeled toward political causes that effectively counter oppression. Bob always said that “the only thing a bully understands is a bloody nose”. Nothing is more empowering than defeating a bully.
Bob saw such battles as microcosms of a greater populist strife between common people and the elites, having occurred throughout the course of human civilization. In May 2017, he wrote, “In the United States the elites are the “royal” families and institutions that have arisen from America’s industrial, technological, and money-controlling elite… the average person and family are suffering at the hands of these corrupt, inept, and arrogant elitists. The workingman has become little more than an ATM that the elite, under the guise of political leadership, tap as they wish and when they wish, to fund their schemes and line their pockets.” Can there be a more accurate description of the state of affairs in Washington DC?
My 14 years of experience in campaigns and organizing, compels me to concur with Bob’s observations on human nature applied to political power. He taught me to quickly assess whether someone’s primary actions are defined by public interest, or by maintaining their own position of power and influence for their friends – i.e. what is characteristically called the “Establishment”.
Taxpayers Over Special Interests and Partisans
As North Dakota’s communities grappled with ballot measures over school funding needs, Bob noted how wealthy our state is, and that such wealth belongs to all of us. He wrote: “It’s time… [for] our elected officials to use our wealth of natural resources and our billions of cash and investments in North Dakota, and not in risky Wall Street securities. For example, the School Lands Trust alone has almost $6 billion invested in Wall Street securities. We are paying almost $25 million annually in management fees for this fund alone. Those millions would be better used to fund needed K-12 school infrastructure.”
In an Oct 4th, 2021 letter to the Board of University and School Lands, Bob urged members to be forward-thinking. “In 2008, the securities market took a hit of approximately 40% of the value of these market funds. The markets in which the Board… are invested are vulnerable and likely to see significant losses…” He urged the Board to “consider liquidating a sufficient dollar value of these funds and using the proceeds to retire the outstanding bonded K-12 indebtedness.” (Approximately $1,250,000,000). Why invest in Wall Street interests over our children’s future?
Bob held several Republican leadership positions over the years. He pushed the Republican Party to advance its platform into policy – an objective that is still neglected. He believed that words without action were without meaning or purpose. Worse yet, those who utter such words or put them in print without a willingness to follow through are, in fact, engaging in fraud.
Like many, Bob grew frustrated at party leadership’s “all talk and no action” mindset. He knew from history that the strategy of reactionary incrementalism by conservatives, is a failure. The best defense is a good offense. He taught me that statesmen lead, while politicians scheme and react. Politicians find endless excuses to justify a lack of action on any given issue. This is simply due to the fact that all meaningful political effort can lead to division, and such division is uncomfortable to politicians. This allows politicians to kick the can down the road and absolve themselves of responsibility.
Leadership for the Future
Bob understood that education is the single most important issue – and that we must end the monopoly control of a top-down federal bureaucracy. Ultimately, he knew some of the most important elections would be at the school boards, with parents asserting their power over administrators and pervasive teacher’s unions.
After a year of overbearing and harmful Covid policies forced upon children, and the Biden administration labeling concerned parents domestic terrorists, Bob’s words from 2014 seem prophetic: “Parents are persona non grata at the schoolhouse doors. School administrators, counselors, aides, specialists, and facilitators (aka teachers) aggressively seek to identify the highest percentage of students possible as needing special services. School boards, which should select curricula and hire and fire all school employees from aids to superintendents, have become window dressing for professional school administrators to do as they please.”
Many good people enter politics and are immobilized by excuses for inaction put forward by do-nothing types. They’re told to obey unwritten rules that allow a select few to climb the leadership ladder so that “one day” they can make a difference. Bob wrote in March 2011: “There is only one good time to correct a wrong — immediately. Anyone, any party, any pundit preaching otherwise is nothing more than a charlatan.” The impetus for common citizens to be involved is to apply a constant, corrective pressure on our elected representatives, and thus turn them into elected leaders.
In today’s political world of lies and uncertainty, when leaders are trapped in a revolving door of ambiguity, Bob helped many escape from falsity and equivocation. With truth, comes courage. What greater lesson can be taught to face the challenges of life and human society?
Robert Hale was a true statesman who taught me and many others to stand strong with courage and vision. His passing is deeply saddening, but I am grateful and fortunate to have known him. Often with a smile on his face, he told me he was ready to die, and was “looking forward to it”. His faith gave him strength and peace. In peace is where he now rests.