Burgum is Allowing Attorney General Opinion to be Veto Override. Why Isn’t the Legislature Admitting That?

Over the weekend it was reported the Legislature is holding off their potential lawsuit against Governor Burgum. The public reason given by legislative leadership is a lawsuit, or a special session to override Burgum’s post-session vetoes would cost money and/or dig into the three remaining legislative days of the biennium. Both would be accurate. However, there is more to this story. Governor Burgum is ignoring his own vetoes and adhering to the laws passed by the Legislature according to people involved. His actions follow Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s June opinion. In other words, Burgum is allowing the Attorney General’s opinion to be the veto override.

If Burgum is following the law as written by the Legislature, there isn’t a need for litigation or a special session. So why give the other excuses as presented by legislative leaders and not just explicitly say that? My guess, to save face for the novice Governor and fellow Republican.

Don’t get me wrong. There are clear divisions among North Dakota Republicans. That isn’t surprising; there are a lot of them elected. A decisive super-majority. And we cannot ignore the deeply seeded division among some Republican legislators and Doug Burgum. After all, Wayne Stenehjem was their guy. He won the party’s endorsement at their convention in 2016, and a lot of legislators publicly campaigned for him in the primary. Didn’t matter, Burgum won, and he won big. Those same Republican candidates who campaigned against Burgum in the primary went on to beg for his endorsement and a photo in the general election. Burgum was eager to oblige their requests. Yet, those wounds haven’t fully healed.

With all that said, this isn’t the party battle they want. It would be too public. The way this has been handled, Stenehjem has already given the Legislature the victory. Getting the Court involved would solidify that with the use of taxpayer dollars. Not a good look, especially for one-party super majority rule. They own it.

Still, there are those who want to take action. House Majority Leader Al Carlson is rumored to want to put a veto session back on the table if the Legislature doesn’t sue Burgum. He is in the minority on Legislative Management tasked with making that decision according to sources. Carlson claims it is to uphold legislative authority. Some wonder if Carlson has begun to think legislative authority is really his authority in his own mind.

The power struggle between the legislative and executive branches have been around since the republic was formed. Checks and balances. In North Dakota, the Legislature has taken the upper hand in this struggle over the past several decades. We have a relatively weak executive branch. The newly elected head of that branch, Doug Burgum, tried to assert himself early and was pushed back. Let’s come to terms with it and move on. Take note, there will be plenty of Republican intraparty fighting moving forward.

Tyler Axness