Q&A with Rick Becker, candidate for the Republican nomination for North Dakota governor
State Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, is running to be the Republican nominee for governor of North Dakota. Becker, a physician and plastic surgeon, spoke last month to the Herald’s editorial board; below is a transcript, edited for brevity.
Q. Why do you think you’re the best qualified candidate?
I have the principles that I think are the best ones to govern the state, especially in times when things are going to be leaner than they have for the past few years.
My concern is that our spending has increased dramatically. General Fund spending alone has increased over 200 percent in the past 10 years. And while the government continues to grow, it’s very hard to “un-grow” it.
The decreased revenues we’re seeing -- they’re going to continue for at least the near future, probably a good year or two or more.
So, we’ve got this huge state government as far as spending goes, but now our revenues are decreasing. Those two things don’t match.
That means going into the upcoming bienniums, we’ve got to ask, “Are we going to focus on cutting spending, or are we going to focus on minimally or reluctantly cutting and looking primarily at raising revenue, which means raising taxes and possibly spending Legacy funds?”
In my view, we should go back and do what I’ve been wanting to do for the past two sessions anyway, which is cut spending.
What’s important to realize is how significant the concern is. The need to cut back to where we were a couple of sessions ago is going to be critical.
Q. Any specific areas that you would cut from the budget?
Well, I think there’s going to be a hearkening back to the approach of former Gov. Ed Schafer. We’re going to have to have all agencies cut their budgets.
But those cuts should be made intelligently, too. Take K-12 spending: The research and reading I have been doing tells me that we spend more per K-12 student than our neighbors do in Montana, South Dakota, Minnesota. And yet the academic assessments are roughly the same.
So when I look at that, I think, “Montana is spending less per student than we are and yet getting the same results. If we could do that, we would save -- by my calculations -- $140 million per year.”
So, the question would be, could we cut in ways that wouldn’t actually detract from the students’ learning?
Q. As you mentioned, the next governor is going to face a different landscape than Gov. Jack Dalrymple did. Is there something in your background or philosophy that makes you feel you’ll succeed in that changed landscape?
Sure. My attitude as governor is going to be the same as it is has been as a legislator, which is that I have strong convictions about what a good government looks like, and that’s very limited government that focuses on keeping money in the taxpayers’ pockets.
The viewpoint of government from somebody who’s a free-market conservative is that the free market is the way to go for the greatest amount of societal prosperity, the highest standard of living.
You can actually magnify that to account for my interest in becoming governor. I have a good life; I have a very fulfilling career. I love my job. The only reason I’m willing to leave that job is because I want to make a change that I think is critically necessary for the state, which means it’s critically necessary for my children and grandchildren.
I’m not going to waver from that. There’d be no benefit to me in modifying or diminishing the significance of what we need to do.
So, I’m going to be able to make the tough decisions. The next governor is not going to have 70 percent or 80 percent favorability ratings, not if they’re going to govern properly. The good old days of being everybody’s friend are over for now. And I’m comfortable stepping into that role.
Q. Cuts are going to be a big thing in the next election issue. But what about economic development? What have you got up your sleeve for economic development for North Dakota?
The means by which government can enhance economic development is to get out of the way.
Q. I heard you use the term small government conservative. Is that how you refer to yourself?
I refer to myself as many things: a classical liberal, libertarian, fiscal conservative, laissez-faire capitalist. There are many things that you can refer to me as.
Q. If Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem is your opponent, how will you approach your campaign?
The No. 1 thing that he has going for him is name recognition, and we know that that has a significant impact on voting. So in my view, the best thing I can do is just bring out the message that things are not like they have been; and as the months pass and the reports just keep coming out, people will see that it’s true.
Also, I think there’s been some discontent in the state about where we’ve gone -- some sense of a loss of direction of what it actually meant to be a Republican or a conservative. And that is slapping us in the face now with our decreased revenues.
I think that voters might view someone who has been holding office and part of the governing establishment for many, many years as being perhaps a person who is not going to offer a reliable alternative to the way things have been.
And we need an alternative to the way things have been. So, my goal is to get that message out.
Q. Around the country, Republican governors have made issues of such things as school choice. Do you have plans in those kinds of areas?
I’m very much an advocate of parental choice in education. It brings in that free-market component, because if parents can choose where to take their kids, that brings in the element of competition, and schools will compete to provide the best environments and outcomes for the children. And you can’t ask for more than that.
Also, as governor I will get us out of Common Core. Actually, to be more accurate, I will get us out of the Smarter Balanced Consortium.
A lot of the discussion is about the Common Core standards. But my issue is not with the standards per se. My issue is that because of our involvement with Smarter Balanced, we don’t have a real say in what the standards are. We can change them slightly, but basically, we’ve lost that local control.
Another issue: When it comes to higher education, there is a huge disparity in the reciprocity agreement between North Dakota and Minnesota. Reciprocity is a fine idea, but the ratio -- we have many more students coming from Minnesota and other states than leave North Dakota to go to school in those states.
Yet every student who goes to school in North Dakota gets their education subsidized by the taxpayers of North Dakota.
I don’t think that’s fair to the taxpayers. I love to see the students from Minnesota and elsewhere, and I’d love to see them come here for the quality of our education. But I’m not interested in having them come here because it’s cheap for them to do so, and that’s because John and Mary North Dakota are paying for that student to come here. I think we need to take a look at that. There’s a race to grow the state’s universities, and to what end?