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Port: North Dakota's two largest farm groups set aside differences to oppose term limits

“We felt it important to voice together our concerns about this measure,” said North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne in a statement his group released jointly with the NDFB. “At Farmers Union, we have longstanding policy that opposes term limits because they are a limitation on the rights of citizens to choose and elect their public officials. Term limits also put more power into the hands of professional lobbyists and career bureaucrats.”

North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne.
North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne.
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MINOT, N.D. — The North Dakota Farm Bureau and the North Dakota Farmer's Union are like the Republican and Democratic parties of agriculture. They often share many of the same goals, but as often they differ sharply on how to get there.

But the two groups are in agreement on one thing this election cycle: North Dakota doesn't need term limits.

“We felt it important to voice together our concerns about this measure,” said North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne in a statement his group released jointly with the NDFB. “At Farmers Union, we have longstanding policy that opposes term limits because they are a limitation on the rights of citizens to choose and elect their public officials. Term limits also put more power into the hands of professional lobbyists and career bureaucrats.”

“Limiting state legislative terms would result in terrible consequences for the rural citizens and communities of North Dakota,” Daryl Lies, NDFB president, said in the same release. “Why should we be forced to get rid of the very people who are good for North Dakota? As voters, we should have the right to vote for leaders of our choice.”

This development is as surprising as it is spot-on accurate.

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At the heart of every term limits proposal is this odious notion that voters are too stupid to decide for themselves when enough is enough for a particular elected leader, and so must be denied certain choices.

I'm certain we could all name a few people who have held elected office far past the point at which they stopped serving the public well, but if that official's constituents want to keep voting for him, or her, who are we to tell them they can't?

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The very real side effect of term limits will be weakened elected officials, particularly in the Legislature, who will never get the opportunity to gain the sort of experience and knowledge that would allow them to serve as an effective check on executive branch and bureaucratic power.

A vote for term limits is a vote to give more power to people who spend their careers in government without ever having to appear on the ballot.

But what's surprising about these groups coming together to spread that message is that most people in state politics view term limits as a fait accompli. The term limits campaign has released polling they commissioned showing that over 80% of North Dakotans support term limits. I've seen other polls, not released to the public, with similar results.

There are many prominent people and groups in North Dakota politics who very much oppose term limits, but few of them seem willing to attempt the daunting task of persuading a seemingly convinced electorate that this is a bad idea.

Kudos to the Farmer's Union, and the Farm Bureau, for speaking up. They're making the right argument, even if our state's political winds are blowing in their faces.

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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