Just over a year ago the COVID-19 global health pandemic began the public health and economic crisis that infected almost 30 million people in the U. S. alone and took over 540,000 American lives. In North Dakota over 100,000 of our just 762,062 population were infected and 1,466 fellow North Dakotans lost their lives. This loss of life is accompanied by tremendous economic and social hardship.
We believe that this crisis provides an opportunity for North Dakotans to come together to “build back better.” In early March, the Biden-Harris American Rescue Plan was signed into law and last week the administration unveiled an infrastructure proposal that makes significant investments in rural America. These actions by the administration are the first steps to bringing an end to the pandemic and to restoring our economy. Former Congressman Barny Frank was known for saying “Government is simply the name we give to the things we choose to do together.”
The Rescue Plan focuses on ensuring that Americans get the vaccine, provides direct payments to struggling American families, and support for struggling small businesses and communities. As rural community members, we were excited to see the plan includes specific recognition of the needs of rural states and communities. In addition, it provides opportunities for significant investments in our rural hospitals, small businesses, agriculture and food security, energy and economic development, support for essential workers and reopening schools safely and efficiently.
This aggressive action by the administration to focus bringing end to the pandemic, getting kids back in schools and money in Americans pockets while sparking economic recovery is an excellent example of the things we choose to do together. This legislation also enjoys overwhelming support from the public according to Pew Charitable Foundation polling conducted between March 1 -7 among 12,055 adults found that 70% of adults supported the legislation, including 41% of self-identified Republicans. Although no Republicans in Congress voted for the legislation, 57% of those polled believe that the Biden administration made a good faith effort to work with Republicans.
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The new Democratic administration is showing us what can happen when we put the needs of the people over partisan politics. For decades, Republicans have had supermajority control over the government in North Dakota. Our leaders are failing and our communities are suffering. Our state legislature has not passed a single piece of legislation that focuses on how we protect working families, restore our economy and ensure our key traditional industries evolve to address the changing energy and agricultural markets. In a Jan. 27 executive order on tackling the climate crisis, the president said his administration sees farmers “making American agriculture first in the world to achieve net-zero emissions and gaining new sources of income in the process,” giving North Dakota the opportunity to lead into the future.
Additionally, the administration has further shown its commitment to rural states and places by proposing to invest billions through the proposed infrastructure package with the acknowledgement that it must be locally led. The package includes funding a new Rural Partnership Program that includes tribal nations to support locally-led planning and capacity building efforts, and providing flexible funding to meet critical needs identified by the community to build on their unique assets and realize their vision for inclusive community and economic development.
As we have evolved from the horse-drawn plow and carriage in agriculture and transportation, it is time to focus on ensuring long-term health and resilience of our people, our communities, and our soil.
Unfortunately, all three of our Republican members of Congress did not vote for this package, nor have pledged to support the infrastructure package. They continue to stand in the way in delivering for us. For too long the one-party, super-majority rule has shut down critical conversations about the role of government and what North Dakotans need to create a homegrown and shared prosperity.
We are running for chair and vice chair of the DEM-NPL in North Dakota. As a small business owner and veterinarian from Western North Dakota and a 100th generation tribal citizen we are committed to listening to the concerns and problem solving with all North Dakotans. The name of our party, DEM-NPL reflects North Dakota’s long history as the party of the people. We are proud to lift the voice of working families by focusing on passing policies that speak specifically to North Dakotan’s desire for financial independence, shared prosperity, and thriving communities.
The incredible investment in rural states proposed by this administration are great first steps in the nation’s recovery from the pandemic. It focuses on our shared values of prioritizing working people and providing an opportunity for all of our communities to thrive. A strong DEM-NPL here in North Dakota can help our voices be heard as we build back better.
Shelley J. Lenz is candidate for chair and Cesar Alvarez, Candidate for vice chair of the DEM-NPL.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.