A truly symbolic moment took place in the North Dakota State Capitol today. It encompassed the Legislature’s approach to government and showed their priorities. At approximately 10 a.m. the Health Services Committee veered from its agenda and took a recess. Advocates for people with disabilities, their families, and behavioral health professionals were basically told to wait their turn. Something more pressing came up. Senator Judy Lee led the Republican members of the committee upstairs to a press conference in the Great Hall. It was so they could stand behind a podium and make another election year promise on infrastructure.
“You can’t just throw money at the problem and solve it” is a common phrase used by self-proclaimed conservative legislators during legislative sessions. It turns out if the problem is needing votes, then election years are the perfect time to promise to throw money around. That is what happened today, and it has been orchestrated in past election years.
In 2014, when Republican House Majority Leader Al Carlson became worried about his reelection chances, he rounded up area Republicans and city officials for a press conference. He pledged $275 million for the Fargo Diversion. It followed his tenure of calling for spending reductions. It worked. Al Carlson came in second place to Democrat Pam Anderson and saved his seat.
What Carlson pulled in 2014 isn’t unlike today’s press conference. Except, the politically promised voter payout got more expensive and a little more spread out to the state. $280 million for infrastructure projects. The years of hand-wringing and declaring the state can’t afford projects are over. It is election season and you’re supposed to forget about the excuses for closing rural DOT maintenance shops, not receiving a pay raise if you’re a state employee, ending promised property tax relief, and yes addressing the behavioral health crisis that was put on hold earlier in the Health Services Committee today. It is a new day and their promise is to spend money they already had in the bank. They hope you’ll buy it.
Odney Advertising, which currently holds nearly $3 million dollars worth of taxpayer-funded contracts, issued the Republican announcement. They sent the partisan media announcement yesterday, and today issued the talking points and charts used at the Bismarck and Fargo press conference. Not an NDGOP communication director. Not a campaign chairperson. An advertising agency in business with our state government.
The same politicians behind podiums today used the same advertising agency and right-wing commentators to attack people like me for pushing the idea of infrastructure spending in the past. “Tax and spend” is what they said as political attacks in 2016 and before that. Today those politicians talking about creating new “buckets” of funding are promoted by the same people who have been carrying “buckets” of water for them publicly over the years.
Nobody disputes the need for infrastructure funding. Some of us have called for it prior to election years. Those that suddenly realize it now are politically motivated. The fact this was pushed before August and not in October like when Carlson rushed in 2014 makes you wonder if something has them politically concerned. What does their internal polling show? Expect more of these announcements as we move through the midterm election.