By JAMES MacPHERSON Associated Press
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — State Rep. Rick Becker, who was easily defeated in his independent bid for U.S. Senate, said Wednesday that he still considered Election Day a victory with wins by candidates who will grow the Legislature’s ultraconservative wing that he founded a decade ago.
Becker said he expected at least six new “likeminded” lawmakers to caucus with the Bastiat Caucus, though he refused to identify them. Becker, who won’t be in the Legislature when its session opens next year, claimed that would bring the caucus to more than two dozen.
The membership has never been publicly disclosed, and moderate Republicans and state GOP Party Chairman Perrie Schafer dismissed Becker’s claims.
“Those are inflated numbers, of course,” Schafer said. “There’s no question about it that we did have some new people in there that that maybe lean toward the right a little bit more than others, and that’s a totally OK.”
Becker also claimed a win with voters’ approval of term limits for state lawmakers and the governor following a campaign sponsored by far-right conservatives and largely funded by an outside interest group. He said he supported it largely for limiting the governor — Becker has sometimes skirmished with Gov. Doug Burgum — and not because he hoped it would aid election of farther-right candidates.
Jared Hendrix, chairman of the measure’s sponsoring committee, also said his goal was simply to rotate more people through elected office, not necessarily far-right lawmakers.
Republicans hold supermajorities in both chambers; Democrats have just four seats in the Senate and 11 in the House. Ninety-eight of the Legislature’s 141 seats were on the ballot Tuesday; 33 new Republicans were elected and five new Democrats.
Becker, who was first elected to the state House in 2012, narrowly lost to U.S. Sen. John Hoeven at the GOP’s nominating convention in April. Becker, a Bismarck plastic surgeon and former gubernatorial candidate, had said he would not run if he lost the endorsement to Hoeven, but re-entered the race as an independent in August.
On Tuesday, Becker got just over 18% of the vote behind Hoeven’s 56% and Democrat Katrina Christiansen’s 25%.
Republican state Rep. Keith Kempenich, who has been in the House since 1993, called Becker’s claim of the chamber getting more conservative “a stretch at best.”
“I still don’t think they have enough numbers to make an agenda, that’s for sure,” the Bowman rancher said of the far-right group.
Republican state Rep. Jeff Magrum, a plumber and rancher who identifies as a member of the Bastiat Caucus, won a state Senate seat Tuesday after defeating a candidate in the primary backed by GOP Gov. Doug Burgum.
Magrum is one of the Legislature’s most conservative members. He has fought mask mandates and falsely contends Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election. He unsuccessfully pushed an abortion ban and successfully pushed legislation that allows someone to use deadly force without retreating in certain circumstances.
Magrum said he’s proud to represent the far-right faction of the North Dakota Legislature but was hesitant to label any of the new GOP lawmakers because he does not know all of them.
“I don’t know how people are going to vote — there’s a lot of young guys coming in and they could unify with us if they’re very conservative on spending and policy,” he said. “But I don’t know where they are at right now so it will be interesting.”