Saturday, December 4, 2010


North Dakota is a stranger place than you might think. Currently, our courts are hearing cases involving murder most gore, and little children left orphans. Cases--plural? Yes. While Nakvinda's contract killer case in the murder of Phillip Gattuso plays out in district court in Fargo (with a defense completely worthy of the Coen brothers, with the alleged contract buyer out on $1 million cash bail--no, this was not a murder for the life insurance), North Dakota politics seem to have more than a little to do with a custody/parental rights  case involving the child of a woman beaten to death in Bismarck-Mandan last spring. Before the Gattuso murder case took off, custody battles between Phillip Gattuso's family and the family of the child's mother (who had died previously from a heart condition) made plenty of headlines. (A maternal aunt trying to get custody is now mentioned in the murder trial, because of an email she sent to the family's lawyer before her brother-in-law was killed, asking what would happen if the family had the father killed--"just kidding, ha-ha"). In the other case, playing out in Bismarck, only one side of the dispute has money and power--no headlines.

The 2010 election unseated a Democrat House incumbent, replacing him with Rick Berg. According to news reports, Berg will be the richest member of the 112th Congress. Berg, who has made his money in property management, opposed state human rights legislation several years ago on the grounds the "business community doesn't want it". In particular, with housing rights one of the key areas which state human rights enforcement might enforce, and Berg VP of perhaps the largest purveyor of rental residential property around--well, of course his personal business community would have no use for human rights legislation or enforcement (not that it has ever been particularly enforced since it was passed).

Byron Dorgan, one of North Dakota's Democrat Senate delegation, retired, and has been replaced by Republican John Hoeven, who steps down from his third term as Governor. For years, North Dakota has been a Republican state which sends Democrats to Washington. It's a simple plan: national office Democrats bring home the bacon, state office Republicans make sure it gets to the right places. North Dakota's last two Republican governors are viewed as too liberal by the state's tea party types, and even pre-tea party conservatives sometimes grumbled. Both Hoeven and his predecessor (Ed Schaeffer) have mustaches. Neither was a farmer--both had a business background, Ed's including fish farming, and John's in banking (working for the nation's only state-owned bank, a legacy of our socialist past). This is enough to make them cosmopolitan in North Dakota society. Ed's father was an entrepreneur known for inventing and launching "Mr. Bubble", a bubble bath for children. You might remember the jingle. North Dakota's new governor will be an individual with the name of Darymple--not a name that gets you consideration for national office, and not cosmopolitan.

Another North Dakota Republican, Kevin Cramer, once indicated that Lee Atwater was his role model. Remember Lee Atwater? He was the Karl Rove of campaigns before we got to taste Karl Rove--he was just the intro act. Before dying of brain cancer, though, Lee Atwater got religion and professed his regret for the dirty politics he'd engaged in. Cramer is currently the state's Public Service Commissioner. PSC links to coal and oil, and coal and oil are (along with federal pork) the primary reason for North Dakota's budget surpluses and money-under-the-mattress. But lately Kevin Cramer and his wife have been busy "intervening" to take the child of a mother who was beaten to death by her boyfriend, from the baby's father (who was not her boyfriend). The Cramers have no connection to the baby other than the fact that their son was boyfriend #2 in a series of 3 boyfriends in 3 years the mother was involved with. The baby's father was boyfriend #1. He has a court-appointed attorney. Court records indicate that social services "misplaced" the baby's father's phone number before handing the child over to the Cramers. The case moved startlingly swiftly towards termination of the father's parental rights, even though court records also state he passed a home study (done to determine a parent's stability and ability to care for their child) and is the father of two other children who do live with him. The termination has been appealed to the state Supreme Court.

Arguments were presented yesterday. We will wait and watch for the Supreme Court decision.

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