MINOT, N.D. — As a long-time observer, one thing that consistently surprises me, though perhaps shouldn't any more, is how often we're presented with evidence that some of the very people who make up the political process in North Dakota don't really understand how it works.
Case in point: Sen. Merrill Piepkorn, an often-bewildered Democrat from Fargo, who argued against a constitutional measure legalizing sports gambling by suggesting that its proponents ought to be made to pay to collect signatures.
The bill is House Concurrent Resolution 3032, and it's dead simple. If passed it would "authorize sports betting to be conducted in the state and licensed and regulated by the state." Companion legislation would create in state statute the process through which sports gambling would be licensed and regulated.
"There's one major bugaboo that I think we're just kind of glossing over here," Piepkorn told his fellow members of the Senate Finance and Taxation Committee yesterday, May 16. "The assumption is we'll leave it up to the people."
"My contention is if there is so many people yearning for the opportunity to participate in legal online or sports betting, then let them initiate the petition measure," he continued, arguing that proponents should be made to collect signatures to place this proposal on the ballot. "We're skipping over a giant step. This is going to take a lot off the people who are really going to benefit."
Later in his comments, Piepkorn alluded to the practice of paying signature collectors, which has, unfortunately, become common as big-money groups such as North Dakota Voters First use donations from celebrities and billionaires to buy their way onto the statewide ballot.
After Piepkorn's comments, an apparently flabbergasted Sen. Scott Meyer, R-Grand Forks, pointed out that the gripe we hear from those initiating ballot measures isn't that the Legislature is doing it for them, but that the Legislature isn't being responsive enough to what the people want.
It was a good rebuttal, but Piepkorn's nonsense is deserving of more scrutiny.
Does he understand that the Legislature in North Dakota cannot propose a constitutional amendment without sending it to the people? The only avenue lawmakers have to pass an amendment is to approve a resolution placing the proposed amendment on the ballot.
There is no other way to do this, by design.
Using Piepkorn's logic, the Legislature would never propose an amendment to the constitution, which is absurd.
Piepkorn's allusion to paid signature collectors is telling, too.
Frustrated with their inability to put candidates in office, North Dakota's Democrats have begun pouring their money into initiated measure campaigns. North Dakota Voters First, which despite its pretensions of bipartisanship is thoroughly partisan, is the tip of the spear of this endeavor.
The group doesn't use volunteers. It uses the millions it raises from Hollywood celebrities and activist billionaires to pay what amounts to temp workers to collect signatures, all while representing itself to the North Dakota public as though it were a grassroots project.
It's not surprising, then, that Piepkorn's understanding of how initiated measures work would be based on paid petitioners. That's how North Dakota's Democrats, in the absence of success in electing people to office, pursue their agenda.
North Dakota ought to ban the practice of paying signature collectors, but that's a topic for a different column.
I'll conclude this one by arguing that the Legislature should absolutely give voters a chance to have a say on whether or not sports gambling will be legal in the state of North Dakota.
And, if given that choice, which they almost certainly will be, they should say "yes."
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.