The first debate of North Dakota’s Congressional race was held over the weekend. Mac Schneider and Kelly Armstrong were hosted by the North Dakota Newspaper Association in Bismarck. One of the areas of separation was corporate farming in North Dakota. Armstrong’s defense of his support for corporate farming needs a little more of a break down.
“I think the process worked, I think it went out. We introduced a bill. The bill was recalled.” Armstrong reportedly said. The pivot to the process he is alluding rather than his support of the bill is as follows. State Senator Terry Wanzek of Jamestown introduced the 2015 bill to repeal North Dakota’s corporate farming restrictions. The contentious debate resulted in the bill’s passage largely along party lines. Full disclosure, I was in the Senate at the time and voted against the bill along with Schneider.
Almost immediately, North Dakota Farmer’s Union organized to recall the bill. Their efforts to convince Republican lawmakers fell short, but it didn’t stop there. They hit the streets, got the signatures and successfully referred the measure for the general public to vote. North Dakota voters overwhelmingly rejected Terry Wanzek’s bill which was supported by Armstrong by nearly 76%.
In his remarks at the debate, Armstrong would have you believe the “process” and that vote maintained North Dakota’s family farm law the way they wanted. However, two weeks before the June 2016 vote, when it was abundantly clear voters would reject the Republican legislative change, Daryl Lies, the President of the North Dakota Farm Bureau filed a federal lawsuit against North Dakota to remove the corporate farming restrictions. The process to loosen corporate farming against the wishes of the general public continued.
State Senator Terry Wanzek pushed corporate farming through the Legislature. Daryl Lies and the Farm Bureau filed the lawsuit in federal court. Both now serve on Kelly Armstrong’s Agricultural Advisory Committee. It makes you wonder what type of policy advice they’re giving Armstrong.
Finally, changing the “process” Armstrong alluded to and is used by citizens to implement state law has been a focus of the Legislature. Over the last few sessions, the Legislature has looked to add barriers to referrals and initiatives. Changing the timeline for signature gathering or adding a legislative review to measures have been sought. Lawmakers don’t like the “process” the people used to overturn a policy change they wanted. The most recent example is corporate farming.