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McFeely: Burgum's messy, arrogant misstep

It's tough to discern the most offensive aspect of North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum's ethical misstep of accepting $37,000 in Super Bowl tickets from a Minnesota energy company.

Is it the utter arrogance and cluelessness of a governor whose alarm bell didn't go off when Xcel Energy, a company that does business in North Dakota and at some point may come calling on Burgum for assistance, offers such a gift?

Is it that his staff, made up mostly of inexperienced people with little or no history of public service, either didn't see anything wrong with Burgum accepting the gift—or didn't feel comfortable in telling him that doing so would pretty much violate every ethical benchmark of any politician, anywhere?

Is it some of those same staffers making phone calls to chew out longtime public servants who had the audacity to question the governor publicly?

Is it his apologists dismissing the cost of the tickets—more than a large percentage of North Dakotans earn in a year—as irrelevant because Burgum is wealthy?

Is it Burgum being so tone-deaf (or arrogant) that he put a selfie from the game on social media even after news outlets reported about Xcel Energy giving him and his wife the tickets?

Is it the DougBots who believe that since he eventually paid for the tickets—only after the story was exposed—that everything is OK and talking further about the topic is (talking-point alert) "beating a dead horse?"

Is it that Burgum campaigned on the theme of not being one of the "good old boys" and then acted exactly like one of them?

Or is it the number of North Dakotans who either don't understand public servants have ethical standards that should be adhered to, or don't care that Burgum did what he did because he's a Republican?

It's probably a combo platter that puts the stench on this story—a governor who vows to reinvent government, but who sees nothing wrong with getting some really sweet Super Bowl seats for free from a corporate powerhouse.

Even some of Burgum's critics aren't helping their case. State Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, also a Republican, bemoaned the governor accepting Xcel's gift, but opposes an independent ethics commission to oversee the Legislature. So, apparently, Wardner and other legislators see the executive branch as worthy of ethical oversight, but believe themselves to be incorruptible.

Because, you know, an oil boom with billions of dollars of profit at stake would never open the door to lobbyists improperly influencing legislators with free stuff. It's almost as if the Legislature's issues with Burgum have more to do with personalities and power than good governance.

This is not hard. State government officials, from the governor on down, need ethical rules. They need an independent commission to oversee them. Trust, but verify. Isn't that what Republican hero Ronald Reagan used to say?

If it's good enough for the Gipper, it's good enough for North Dakota public servants. The governor's $37,000 ethical misstep proved that.

Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely is a WDAY (970 AM) radio host and a columnist for The Forum. You can respond to Mike's columns by listening to AM-970 from 8:30-11 a.m. weekdays.
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