Doug Burgum ran for governor of North Dakota in 2016 as an outsider who promised to reinvent state government with conservative principles as his guiding light and the savvy of a serial entrepreneur.
He shocked the establishment of the Republican Party by defeating a popular rival for the nomination — after failing to get the party’s endorsement as a newcomer politician — and won a landslide victory in the general election.
More importantly, he quickly got to work. He took office in December 2016 in the midst of a severe revenue shortfall triggered by slumping farm and energy commodity prices.
Burgum’s predecessor, Gov. Jack Dalrymple, delivered a recommendation to slash $1.2 billion in his budget proposal for 2017-19 — a blueprint Burgum called a “good start.”
He implemented zero-based budgeting, a rigorous process that called for each agency and department to reimagine government services and invent new ways of delivering services, rather than simply tweaking with the last budget.
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As a result, Burgum was able to transform a $1 billion budget shortfall into a surplus, while delivering $174 million in permanent property tax relief. He also was able to raise the salaries of teachers and state employees without raising taxes.
In fact, he managed a modest income tax cut for those on Social Security whose income was up to $50,000 for individuals and $100,000 for married couples.
He did that by working with fellow Republicans in the North Dakota Legislature, with whom he’s had a rocky relationship. As an upstart candidate, he was harshly critical of leaders who allowed unsustainable growth in state government back during the oil boom.
Burgum also drove major reforms in dealing with those who battle addiction and the prison system through his Recovery Reinvented initiative, which has significantly increased funding for treatment and brought innovations including peer support programs.
The governor also was the driving force behind getting $50 million in state support — contingent on $100 million in private funding — for the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, now on pace to open in Medora in 2025.
The Roosevelt library, designed by top-notch architects, will become a major attraction to augment nearby Theodore Roosevelt National Park, drawing visitors from around the nation and world. It will increase traffic along the entire Interstate 94 corridor through the state.
More than any governor in recent memory, Burgum has worked to improve relations with North Dakota’s American Indian tribes, helping to achieve a peaceful end to the Dakota Access Pipeline protests at Standing Rock, holding regular summits on collaborative approaches to issues and displaying tribal flags in the Capitol.
The governor’s Democratic challenger, Shelley Lenz, brings energy and some good ideas to the race, especially her proposal for a $50 million regional beef-packing plant. We hope she continues to pursue that vision.
Our one note of concern is the coronavirus pandemic. In recent weeks, North Dakota has led the nation in per-capita infection rates and more than 250 people have died. We have to turn that trajectory around, but support the governor’s restraint in business closures.
As should be clear by now, Burgum has earned a second term to continue working on his priorities: diversifying the state’s economy, a wagon pulled by two horses, agriculture and energy; reinventing government; transforming education, strengthening relations with tribal governments and addressing behavioral health as well as addiction.
By their nature, those complex issues take time to tackle. They remain works in progress. The governor has made impressive progress on those fronts, but needs a second term to move North Dakota further along that visionary course. Voters should keep him at the helm.
This endorsement represents the opinion of Forum Communications Co. management.