Capitol Letters – Week 16

Governor Bill Guy: 1919 – 2013

As we were putting the final touches on this week’s Capitol Letters, we received the sad news of Governor Bill Guy’s passing. Much will rightly be said about this giant of public service in the coming days, and we’ll add our voices to those of thousands of North Dakotans who are both saddened by Governor Guy’s passing and grateful for the lasting legacy of public service he left behind.

Governor Guy wrote a book about his experiences as governor called, “Where Seldom is Heard a Discouraging Word.” The same could be said about the man himself. Whether it was advancement of important water-related  issues, efforts to improve access to mental health care in the state, or his work to spawn the public service careers of the next generation of Dem-NPL leaders, Governor Guy blended effective advocacy with a civility that is all too often lacking in today’s brand of politics. He will be missed. And his life’s work will live on.

The final gavel

Next week, the 2013 Legislative Session will be over, and legislators will be gone from Bismarck faster than a poorly-spoken TV anchor for the capital city’s NBC affiliate. But before we gavel out sine die, there are plenty of right fights to be fought (we guess you’ll find a few more things to shake your head at as well). We bring you one of each from this week’s legislative action below.

The right fights: Winning the fight to restore funding for western North Dakota

Every week, we lay out some of the right fights we’ve been battling in Bismarck. Since this week’s fight involves western North Dakota, we think it is appropriate to start things out with a quote about fighting from the most famous western North Dakotan in history. “Aggressive fighting for the right is the noblest sport the world affords.”

In case you are of the reasonable belief that Warren Christopher is the most famous western North Dakotan, we should clarify that quote was from Theodore Roosevelt. And we think Teddy would be proud of the way the Dem-NPL caucuses have aggressively fought this session for the part of North Dakota he called home.

As we’ve discussed in a previous edition of Capitol Letters, we have a moral obligation to stand by the people of western North Dakota as they grapple with the tremendous impacts that have arisen secondary to the oil boom. They are the ones who are literally paying the price for our prosperity.

Apparently, not all of our colleagues in the majority see it that way. Earlier this month, the Senate GOP majority voted to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from House Bill 1358, bipartisan legislation to address oil impacts in western North Dakota. One GOP senator even had the brass to tell the Fargo Forum “that some funding was stripped out” of the bill, in part, to get western North Dakota “cities to justify why they need the extra funding.”

We didn’t think that was right. So we laid out a three part plan to restore the cuts to HB 1358. And we largely got our way this week when the Senate voted to restore the bulk of the funding that the GOP majority had eliminated just a few weeks ago.

Why the turn of events? The headlines help tell the tale:

ND Senate cuts proposed oil patch funding (KFYR-TV, April 5th)

County officials not pleased with state (Williston Herald, April 11th).

Democrats want oil funds reinstated (Bismarck Tribune, April 11th).

Dems create plan to restore funding for oil-impacted areas (Forum Communications, April 11th).

Williston Herald editorial: Thank you to the Democrats in the North Dakota Legislature (April 13th).

Letter to the editor: ND should elect more Democrats (Williston Herald, April 17th).

Funding restored to oil patch bill (Williston Herald, April 24th).

To be fair, the bill still leaves important health care and human service priorities unfunded, and we will continue to work in our conference committees to meet those vital needs. Nonetheless, we had a bully of a good time, as TR might say, aggressively fighting the GOP majority on this one. We’re not sure if it is “the noblest sport the world affords[,]” but we’re darn sure it was the right fight for North Dakota.

Head-shaker of the week: Fuming over the tobacco prevention budget

Our head-shaker this week features a legislative tantrum thrown by the House GOP majority over the budget for the Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy.

You’ll remember that the Center was created by Measure 3 during the 2008 election, which voters approved by a margin of 54% thanks, in part, to the leadership of private citizen Heidi Heitkamp, now a U.S. Senator. Ever since, members of the GOP majority have had smoke coming out of their ears on this topic. As accurately recounted by Representative Jon Nelson, R-Rugby, during an interview with the Bismarck Tribune, “There’s just some people that have had a hard time accepting the vote of the people on Measure 3[.]” Which people have a hard time with this, exactly? Now, now. We here at Capitol Letters are too polite to name names (Representative Al Carlson).

Once again fired up on this issue, the House GOP voted down the Center’s entire $15.8 million budget on Thursday by a vote of 46-47. Representative Blair Thoreson, R-Fargo, enunciated his rationale to the Tribune. “Part of my problem is there is a lot of money being spent on things such as advertising,” he said.

Let’s parse that one out. The Center for Tobacco Prevention and Control Policy — tasked with doing things like, say, preventing and controlling tobacco use — is spending money “on things such as advertising[.]” For this outrage, the Center paid the price of having its budget voted down. And in another spasm of legislative dysfunction, the House GOP leadership failed to get enough votes when it tried to reconsider the issue Thursday afternoon. Thankfully, the third time is a charm for the House GOP, which brought the bill back today and passed it after much head shaking from observers of the legislative process in that chamber.

One last push

Your Dem-NPL legislators will be making a final push for the best legislative product possible for North Dakota during these remaining days. We’ll have one last update then. In the meantime, keep the faith, keep up the fight, and like us on Facebook.

Mac Schneider                   Kenton Onstad

Dem-NPL News of the Week – Week 16

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