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Port: Legislative candidate portrays himself as victim after tax lien makes headlines

Republican state Senate candidate Ryan Eckroth accuses journalists of not telling the full story of his financial struggles after refusing to answer their questions.

District 35 Senate candidate Ryan Eckroth
Ryan Eckroth, a Republican candidate for the North Dakota Senate in Distsrict 35, is seen here in a YouTube video released May 13, 2022, responding to news stories about an active tax lien filed against him by the IRS as well as his past financial difficulties.
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MINOT, N.D. — Ryan Eckroth is a Republican candidate for the state Senate in District 35, squaring off against fellow Republican Sean Cleary in the primary.

Yesterday I reported that Eckroth has an active federal tax lien against him, one of several state and federal liens filed against him over the past decade.

When I was working on the story I reached out to Eckroth to speak with him about it, and he refused to answer my questions. "I've spoken with my lawyer," he told me. "You guys can print the accurate information. I have no other comment."

Other outlets picked up the story about the lien, and today Eckroth has released a YouTube video in which he accuses myself and other journalists of not telling the full story of the lien, as well as numerous other collections actions against Eckroth in civil filings.

He blames medical bills related to one of his children, as well as a divorce, for his financial struggles, and while that context is certainly pertinent, and important for voters to consider, how can we journalists, tasked with giving voters a peek at the candidates that goes behind the curtains of their campaigns, include that sort of information in our stories if Eckorth won't talk to us?

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It wasn't just me Eckroth wouldn't give a comment to. He also wouldn't speak to KX News reporter Josh Meny .

Not mentioned in Eckroth's video is another matter that's in the public record contemporaneous to his financial struggles.

In February 2012, Eckroth agreed to surrender his insurance producer license to the North Dakota Insurance Commissioner's office after an investigation revealed multiple claims that Eckroth had billed insurance clients for policies they hadn't purchased.

Eckroth did not admit to wrongdoing in that matter, but did voluntarily give up his license.

Journalists have an obligation to tell full stories, including a political candidate's side of the story. And Eckroth's story is at least somewhat compelling. Many of us have faced financial difficulties in our lives, whether they be of our own creation or due to just plain bad luck.

I'm not so proud that I can't admit that a few times, in my early 20s, I was late paying some bills because I couldn't quite make ends meet. It happens.

I made good. Eckroth says he has too — is still in the process of doing so — and that's commendable.

But how can anyone tell that story if Eckroth himself won't share it?

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And when the candidate plays the victim, accusing journalists of not telling a full story when he specifically refused to answer their questions?

That's bogus.

It's manipulation.

It's certainly not something that commends the person responsible for the responsibilities and privileges of holding elected office.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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