North Dakota Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk received the his party’s nomination at the State Republican Convention for the U.S. House of Representatives April 1 and faces one last hurdle at a contested June primary before cinching the party’s nod. On Thursday morning, he sat down for a phone interview with Times-Record reporter David Luessen.
Kalk grew up in Bottineau, where he graduated high school in 1984 and took a year of junior college classes before enlisting in the U.S.
Marine Corps for what would turn into a 20-year career, and finished out a four-year degree in night school. He attained the rank of sergeant and became a logistics officer, seeing action in Iraq and Bosnia and traveling to about three dozen countries around the world.
Said Kalk,”That’s where I think I really developed an appreciation for how important it is to U.S. foreign policy -- with energy, with oil - just seeing how the military was often involved with energy – rich parts of the world. Some of these foreign policy decisions get tougher because we don’t have energy at home.
“I remember in desert storm when Hussein lit the oil fields on fire and thinking to myself ‘this is crazy. We’re over here fighting this war and this guy’s lighting oil fields on fire, using energy as a weapon,’ and that really ingrained in me the importance of energy in the world scheme.”
Kalk would later finish his master’s and doctorate degrees, becoming a professor at North Dakota State University before deciding to run for PSC in 2007. While serving as commissioner the policies he saw coming out of Washington, D.C., were instrumental in Kalk’s run for house.
“I never thought, when I was there (in Iraq) in 2003, that we would still be there today.
Q: “Twenty years with the Marines – How would you apply that type of military discipline to government spending?”
A: “The biggest problem we have right now is our debt and deficit. I was very adamant back last August when they were talking about raising the debt ceiling, I said ‘we absolutely cannot vote to raise the debt ceiling, we’ve got to make the hard decisions now. In the marine corps we got a budget, and we always stayed within that budget. You don’t spend more than you have; you conserve the resources that you have. The military background -- you get a set of rules and guidelines and you stay within them.
“We’ve relied on a campaign theory of ‘keep it simple,’ make tough decisions, tell the people what your viewpoints are, where you stand, and we have a huge grassroots organization of people that just want to help us and I think that’s been our success so far. We’ve got a good group of hardworking people and that’s just one of the things you learn in the Marine Corps: Work hard and good things happen.”
Gay marriage, for example – how do you feel about federal impositions on social issues? Would you rather leave that up to the states?
“Traditional marriage is the only kind of marriage, that’s my opinion, so that’s where I’m at. But for me, we’re running for this office for a variety of reasons, the biggest for me being strong foreign policy that we can afford, we need to stop the overregulation of our energy and ag sectors, those are the issues we’re spending our time talking about.”
How would you work to improve education?
“My wife is a teacher and I taught at NDSU; I think the biggest thing we can do to improve education is to always remember that education starts at home. Parents have got to do the best they can to educate their kids from day one. Read to your kids at night, get them around and show them different parts of the state; our daughter, everywhere we went with her was a field trip, trying to educate her.
“When you get into school systems, parents should have the choice whether they want to send their kids to public school or to private school, and I think that one thing we’re going to really have to do is empower the teachers. Teaching is definitely a state’s right and responsibility. The No Child Left Behind Act was done at the federal level and while I think it was a good idea, it just hasn’t worked out that way. You’ve got to let teachers teach what they think is important in their classrooms, and let states handle it. It’s not a federal responsibility for teaching, it’s up to the states and it’s up to the individual schools.”
What input would you like to have on the next farm bill?
“It’s absolutely critical that we have a strong farm bill for North Dakota. It is absolutely essential that we have strong federal crop insurance. That has been the safety net for farmers, and we need to continue to have that.
“I’ve got a lot of good friends that still farm back in Bottineau and we’ve had some tough years with the flooding, and it’s absolutely essential that we have strong crop insurance. It’s also essential that we have some provisions in there for disaster assistance and, quite honestly, make sure we’ve got the availability to produce bio-diesel. Those are the types of things that we absolutely have to have. And we have to educate people that 60 to 70 percent of the farm bill actually deals with nutrition programs and things like that. We have to educate people just how small an amount of the farm bill actually goes to farmers, and just fight with everything we can to make sure we’ve got the right provisions to keep North Dakota’s ag economy strong.”
Anything in closing you would like to add?
“The biggest thing that we bring to the table is we’ve got the ‘world view.’ We understand how North Dakota fits into the U.S.; we understand how the U.S. fits into the world, and my goal would be to figure out how we can craft a long-term foreign policy that doesn’t keep our troops deployed over and over and over again. We can’t be the world’s police; we can’t afford it monetarily and it’s just not a good idea. We’ve got to figure out what bases we don’t need overseas and we should close bases overseas we don’t need. We’ve got to figure out how to make a lighter, quicker military. Don’t overuse the National Guard; our Guard is performing wonderfully, but as we continue to move forward you can’t expect these young men and women to deploy over and over and over again.
“In the energy and ag sector, the over regulation coming out of the EPA trying to shut down our fossil fuels, trying to tell farmers what they can and can’t do on their own property - we’ve got to create certainty in our energy and ag sectors. We’ve got to open up new markets for producers and make sure we can produce all types of energy to keep the cost of energy down, which will help everyone. Those are the things that I really want to get involved in.”