FARGO-Doug Burgum was supposed to be the techy guy, supporting innovation and entrepreneurship and diversification to make North Dakota less dependent on the swings of a commodity-based economy. Remember when he said that during his campaign for governor?
Here's a refresher course, lifted straight from Burgum's campaign website:
"The changing economy presents us with tremendous opportunity in the form of new jobs, higher wages, and a diversified and value-added economy. In order to seize this opportunity, we must support entrepreneurs and innovators, and educate, prepare, and recruit individuals ready to tackle these challenges. A 21st century economy requires a 21st century workforce."
Burgum was the Great Plains Software/Microsoft guy-that's where he made his millions-pushing technology as a great way to modernize North Dakota's economy and perhaps draw new people to the state. A 21st century economy, a 21st century workforce-which most would define as well-educated, tech-savvy, mobile, innovative, global-thinking. Made sense.
Let's make North Dakota great again!
That's why Burgum's wishy-washy statement on President Trump's executive order banning some immigrants and refugees is so surprising. Although maybe it shouldn't be. Burgum showed open and unwavering support for Trump during last fall's campaign. It was a savvy political move, considering Trump received 63 percent of the vote in North Dakota.
But does Burgum really side with Trump on most issues? Or was he just reading the internal polls and making a calculated decision to defeat the establishment candidate, Wayne Stenehjem, in the Republican primary? It appears we have evidence to support the former.
"In light of the ongoing terrorist attacks around the world, it makes sense for the United States to pause and review our travel and immigration policies," Burgum said in a statement. "At the same time, we are a nation built on immigration and founded on the ideal of religious freedom. It is important that we remember these principles that made America the leader of the free world."
Hello, fence. May the governor sit?
Yes, we want people to come here from other nations and we don't want to single out any religions for persecution. Yes, we want to ban people from coming here and it's OK to single out a certain religion.
Which way is it, sir?
Burgum's comment differed strongly from other leaders in the tech world of which he was once so proudly a part. Nearly unanimously, U.S. tech CEOs condemned the ban. The contribution from immigrants in this sector is stunning.
From Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, the company that helped make Burgum an incredibly wealthy man: "As an immigrant and as a CEO, I've experienced and seen the positive impact that immigration has on our company, for the country, and for the world."
CEOs of Apple, Netflix, Uber, Airbnb and Tesla Motors-among others-either outright denounced the ban or raised troubling questions. The issue is two-fold: The ban might affect tech employees working in the U.S. legally and the CEOs are worried they won't be able to recruit top talent from around the world to come to this country.
It gets better. In a Breitbart News podcast discussion during the Republican primary last year, Steve Bannon and Stephen Miller-now top advisers to the president-talked about how legal immigration was "scary" and how immigrants "are coming to take your job." They were specifically talking about the tech sector-so many Asians, Bannon said-but Miller said repeatedly how America has gone through periods when immigration has been virtually cut off and how that's a good thing.
The goal, it appears, is to choke off even legal immigration under the guise of protecting American jobs. Bannon calls legal immigration the "beating heart of this problem."
That was Bannon's and Miller's point in the podcast: If foreigners aren't allowed to come to the United States and take all the good jobs, those jobs will go to Americans.
There was no discussion about how many Americans might actually be qualified for those jobs.
Is this what Burgum, tech guru and governor of a state that needs to diversify its economy with tech growth, supports? It'd be nice to have clarification.
One of the attractions of Candidate Burgum was his focus on diversifying North Dakota's economy, on adding jobs to attract young people and augment the state's commodity-based economy. But Gov. Burgum doesn't sound so bold when faced with the choice between splitting from Trump or acknowledging the reality of the tech sector.
As the governor himself said, a 21st century economy requires a 21st century workforce. It's unlikely North Dakota will be able to achieve either if the flow of overseas brainpower is stopped.