In a state that rightfully boasts of being as financially secure as it’s ever been, the condition of North Dakota’s highway rest stops on Interstate 94 is deplorable. And I mean from Fargo to Beach, the entire length of the road, which I traveled both ways a couple of weeks ago.
Because of our age diversity, the excursion to the west and back required stops at nearly every public rest area along the way. And because our out-of-state visitors (North Dakota natives and former residents) were returning to the state after a five-year absence, the neglect of the rest areas was damned embarrassing. If just one of the historically themed areas had been a pigsty, that could have been pardoned. But all of them featured dirty and wet (not water) restroom floors, littered grounds and general shabbiness. All of them.
North Dakota has heaps of money in its coffers. It’s piling up at record rates. Most of it is from oil and gas taxes, and from revenues generated by an increasingly mixed economy that has been strong for some time. Tourism is a leading economic driver. The state spends a lot of money (not enough) to attract visitors. Why, then, are facilities that nearly every tourist will see so grotty? The rest areas often are introductions to the state, the first impressions. They should shine.
There was an exception: the Painted Canyon rest area just before the Medora exit was litter-free and the washrooms were clean and neat, as if maintenance personnel were on site. Oh wait. That one is run by the National Park Service, not the wealthy state of North Dakota.
A maxim for Fargo voters: If City Commissioner Tony Gehrig is for it, it’s probably a bad idea. His conduct on the commission suggests he is proud of being against nearly everything that has made Fargo a national leader in smart municipal governance, which confirms that his intellectual depth is akin to the Red River in a drought. His self-personalized version of public service is not much more than nattering negativity that, if ever allowed to prevail, would hamstring progress. His latest scheme fits the pattern.
Gehrig aims to reconfigure the commission to add more members and/or adopt a ward structure that would replace the at-large system whereby commissioners work for the city as a whole rather than for special interests in discrete wards. Such ideas might have merit, but the seasoned cynic in me says “watch out!” because Gehrig is behind them. Maybe he’s trying an end run around preference voting, which is likely to boot him out of office next time he’s on the ballot. Maybe not. But, running in a tiny ward is easier than conducting a citywide campaign. Cheap-jack candidates win elections when fewer people vote. Gehrig’s presence on the commission proves as much.
Had enough of the anti-vaxxers? Had enough from the former president’s cultists who bought into his early nonsensical pronouncements and lies about the pandemic? They are still out there, still denying the science and effectiveness of COVID vaccines, still clinging to dangerous fictions that were started by the accidental president.
And the results of their idiocy? Where vaccination rates are low, the number of infections, hospitalizations and deaths are up. Where vaccines have been politicized, COVID is surging. In effect, Donald Trump’s plague is being made worse by his anti-vaxxer enablers. They have become a public health menace.
Zaleski retired in 2017 after 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He is the author of a new history of Forum Communications Company. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 701-241-5521 or 701-566-3576.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.