It is puzzling the North Dakota Legislature refuses to implement the will of North Dakota voters. Scratch that: It is puzzling North Dakotans allow such disrespect to continue. In any other setting the delay tactics and dismantling of directives such as ballot measures would not be tolerated.
Instead, we plod meekly onward, cursing our lot and wondering what unseen forces are truly working the levers of our legislative process. This much is clear: This is a mess of our own making and the fault lies squarely with North Dakota voters, as does the solution.
Yes, in many ways we have been poorly-served by our elected officials. Tasked with carrying out their duties in an efficient and effective manner--and doing what’s best for North Dakota--they have disappointed. While there is no pleasure in pointing out their failings, is it time to conclude they’re simply not very good at their jobs? Are these challenges simply beyond their abilities? One wonders if many of the chronic financial, social and ethical issues which have lurched from one legislative session to the next could have been resolved long ago in more capable hands.
Floating atop this stew of malformed reasoning, personal agendas and arrogance is the issue of our oil revenue. Presented with a once-in-a-lifetime windfall, of such magnitude to lift all residents to a higher plain, our team at the Capitol was unable to leverage this into a lasting financial legacy. Instead, it appears revenue was bartered away for reasons which remain hazy to this day. Don’t launch into a schematic full of rates and triggers and projections – your job is to explain it in terms we can understand. If you can’t explain it, then find someone who can. And if you can’t find someone who can, we will. We need to know where the windfall from our oil went; we need to know why we’re broke again.
And please don’t suggest ethics oversight is not needed. That’s not your decision, it’s ours. And we think you need it. If you can’t deliver on that, we’ll find someone who can.
We are not the first state to suffer the arrogance of its legislature. But there is a remedy, as Ronald Reagan said, “When you can’t make them see the light, make them feel the heat.” It starts today, at hearings and conferences at the Capitol, and in calls and e-mails to representatives during this legislative session. It continues over hot dogs and bad coffee this summer at county fairs and threshing shows, and concludes at the polls somewhere down the line.
No rancher would tolerate a hired hand who refused to work, nor would a farmer a farmhand who refused to plant.
As for our legislators: If you didn’t want to work for us then why did you take the job?
This column was submitted for consideration in The Forum's search for "the next great columnist."