Every policy decision has implications of positive and negative outcomes. The North Dakota legislative body’s override of Gov. Burgum’s veto of HB 1323 is significantly disappointing in that our state legislators have continued the politicization of the mask mandate. The override of a common sense veto by Burgum is the culmination of a larger problem regarding our nation’s public health preparedness: the lack of political will for long term strategic preparedness.
Critical public health infrastructure and preparedness in the United States remains underfunded and underappreciated at all levels of government. Despite our technologically advanced health care system, our nation remains unprepared for future pandemics and other significant disease outbreaks. The veto of HB1323 is the latest indirect assault on an already underfunded and unappreciated public health system. When viewing public safety through a public health lens, infectious disease outbreaks such as H1NI, MERS, SARS and COVID-19 which have pandemic potential serve as reminders regarding the significance of these threats.
Historically, our nation tends to forget the lessons of past events. The HB 1323 override is much like the difficulties we have had as a nation regarding the global war on terrorism. In a similar fashion, the problem is rooted in the American political culture. As a nation, we tend to enter limited or counterinsurgent wars which tend to be highly political in nature. The end-result is a perceived short-term win but a failed long term strategic objective. Much like our struggles in the war on terrorism, the public health approach taken by many within the North Dakota legislative body in the war on infectious diseases has been no different.
Unfortunately, the narrow lenses in which government continues to view public health through is responding to disease outbreaks with short term solutions without longer term strategies. After nearly every outbreak of infectious diseases in history, there is a flurry of activity by government, but political interest quickly fades, and other non-preparedness priorities dominate. Or, in the case of our state, a flurry of bills to undermine public health powers. While personal liberties are one of the premises of democracy, many North Dakota policymakers must now consider the unintended consequences of their narrowly viewed public health policy stance.
In closing, I want to thank Governor Burgum and the legislators who voted against the veto override for their political will to see the long-term public health strategic objective. For those who supported the override, I suspect you may have some competition in the next election season.
Adam Hohman lives in West Fargo.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.