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Letter: Columnist twists intent of do-not-sign campaign

There is an old saying that you never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel. However, I must disagree with Forum Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski’s Aug. 3 column, “Undermining voters is a losing strategy.” First Amendment rights are not suspended until an issue is placed on the ballot. The Greater North Dakota Chamber, in cooperation with almost 70 organizations comprised of North Dakotans for Common Sense Conservation, have a right to express our opposition to the measure.

Zaleski is correct. We have encouraged residents to consider the implications of signing a petition. It is easy to ask if one wants to dedicate funds to conservation and clean water. We are all in support of conservation. The question becomes one of fiscal balance and priorities, and that’s why the coalition opposing this issue helped pass the Outdoor Heritage Fund during the 2013 legislative session.

The fund is a better solution. In fact, conservation groups backing the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment were part of the coalition that helped write the language and supported the fund, until they were against it. It was not enough money and provided too little control from environmental groups’ perspectives. It is too bad they decided to abandon a coalition comprised of diverse interests from across the state to focus on their narrow objectives.

The Chamber and the NDCSC urged North Dakotans to get all the facts before signing the CWWPA petitions because it’s a bad policy funded by out-of-state special interest groups. If they are successful, it will result in hundreds of millions of dollars flowing into a constitutional fund with a mandate to spend a minimum of 75 percent of the fund each year. It will result in conservation groups funding internal staffing and research with taxpayer dollars. The fund will be governed by a narrow group of special interest groups comprised of environmental activists. Those are not North Dakota values.

It’s discouraging that Zaleski twists a voter education campaign into a sinister attempt at voter disenfranchisement. The campaign conducted by the NDCSC and supported by the Chamber and the other member organizations was to not stop people from voting. The campaign was designed to educate people about the CWWPA so they make an informed decision when deciding whether to sign a petition, or how to vote, or to engage in the political process.

As we head into the election season, we will urge people to vote against the CWWPA to protect the state’s tax revenues from the prying hands of out-of-state special interest groups. And, like before, it’s not about preventing people from voting. It’s about helping people make an educated decision.

I urge North Dakotans to learn as much as they can about all measures on the ballot. I’m confident they will join me in voting “no” on the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks Amendment.

Peterson, Bismarck, is president and CEO, Greater North Dakota Chamber.