The timing could not be better for the establishment of an independent North Dakota “think tank.” The state has changed dramatically in the past 20 years, and today is confronting economic, social and environmental challenges that never before have been on the agenda. So the effort of Fargo hotel owner Karen Stoker and Valley City developer George Gaukler is a very positive development.
Think tank-like efforts have been made before, but they faded or failed usually because of a lack of funding or serious commitment. But the need for a place to consider, debate and discuss North Dakota-centric ideas and issues was still out there. Newly formed “ThinkND” has put substance into the proposition by securing seed money and naming to the board a diverse, experienced and competent group of directors.
While Stoker and Gaukler are identified with Democratic politics, the makeup of the board confirms their determination to work within ThinkND in a bipartisan and/or nonpartisan fashion. Among the first group of directors are thoughtful and insightful people who are identified with Republican politics: former Fargo Mayor Bruce Furness and Dina Butcher of Bismarck, who worked for Republican Gov. Ed Schafer and Republican state Agriculture Commissioner Kent Jones. The organization is looking for a young Republican to fill the last slot.
The board also has some (not enough) geographical diversity: Fargo, Oakes, Valley City, Bismarck.
Given the state’s one-note political landscape, a think tank without political baggage can be a place where good solutions to intractable problems can be considered on merits, not on whether proposed solutions are Republican or Democratic initiatives. After surveys of North Dakotans, ThinkND identified three priorities: college affordability/student loan debt, mental health care accessibility, and employment discrimination. But the agenda is open, and more public policy concerns likely will be added.
It’s a great idea. ThinkND has the potential to fill a need by offering opportunities to broaden and depoliticize (where possible) the state’s public discourse. North Dakota needs more of that kind of thinking.
Editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.