New leadership but the same tactics were on display during last week’s organizational session. Rule changes and shouting matches rippled through the Capitol as Legislators were given committee assignments and heard Governor Burgum’s budget proposal. Perhaps it was a window into what we can expect in the 66th session. It seems the fight between the Republican Governor and the Republican Legislature continues.
Since defeating the establishment candidate in Wayne Stenehjem, there has been tension between Doug Burgum and Republican leaders. Recall, he labeled them the “good old boys” and suggested term-limits while asking for votes. Since becoming Governor, Burgum has attempted to mend that relationship. Endorsements and campaign contributions have been doled out but they haven’t healed all wounds.
Some of that lingering tension boiled up last week. Before Governor Burgum took to the floor of the ND House to publicly deliver his budget, he presented it to Legislative leaders and select press in separate meetings. According to multiple accounts from people familiar with the meeting, while Burgum was with Republican leaders discussing his proposal the session broke into a shouting match. Who was shouting at Burgum? Rep. Jeff Delzer, the Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.
Though the shouts from Delzer directed at Burgum happened behind closed doors, the bitter dispute spilled into the public. According to the Bismarck Tribune, Delzer led the charge to change the rules of how the Governor has his budget introduced to the Legislature. Delzer attempts to claim this is “housekeeping” but in the same statement admits they’re taking the Governor’s authority away to introduce his budget in legislative form. “We look at it as the Legislature granted them that authority to introduce those bills, and we’re just taking that back,” Delzer said.
Some political observers were a little surprised Delzer retained his Chairmanship after Al Carlson was defeated. They predicted myself included, that Rep. Mike Nathe would become Majority Leader and make some Chairmanship moves. Instead, Rep. Chet Pollert became Majority Leader and Delzer stayed. Perhaps there was a “Delzer deal” to get Pollert votes for leadership if he retained his powerful chairmanship of appropriations.
Delzer and Carlson were close allies in the Legislature. By all accounts from the past week, Delzer is angry Al lost reelection. The first to feel that wrath was Governor Doug Burgum. The second may well be Fargo in the form of a scorned Appropriations Chair and the movement of tax dollars away from vital projects to the area. Though defeated at the ballot, Delzer is still acting as though Carlson is the Majority Leader. Watch for attempted retribution.
The question yet to be answered is whether Burgum has learned how to navigate the Legislature. He was absent last session. With members claiming Burgum has no idea what is in store for him, the Governor needs to be better prepared. Burgum will need to build coalitions to get his agenda implemented. Has he figured out who his allies are or has he burned bridges? This session will tells us a lot about Burgum’s ability to govern.