“Why, then, is a legislator held to a lower standard than a part-time filing clerk?”

The special committees on ethics to implement Article XIV of the North Dakota Constitution met for the first time on January 30th. Though no action was taken, it is clear the desired direction of lawmakers and certain lobbyists. Water down what voters passed in an attempt to keep business as usual in Bismarck.

Senator Tim Mathern, sponsored SB 2148
Two proposals have been offered before the Legislature. Both dramatically different in their approach to ethics and enforcement of standards. The special Senate committee heard SB 2148. The bill was scorned by Legislators in the majority who refused to cosponsor Senator Tim Mathern’s bill which closely aligned with what Measure 1 proponents intended. Lobbyists from the Chamber of Commerce, the Catholic Conference, and Geoff Simon who is associated with the Western Dakota Energy Association lined-up to oppose the bill.

The special House committee heard HB 1521 introduced by House Majority Leader Chet Pollert and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner. This version of implementation appears as an attempt to weaken the enforcement and deterrent of violating the newly required ethical standards. Rep. Pollert, sponsor of the bill, claimed otherwise in his testimony in a rather unconvincing way.

One thing was clear from the hearings. The bill sponsored by majority leaders is the desired vehicle for members of the majority and lobbyists who testified in support of the bill. They were the same lobbyists who opposed Mathern’s bill.

Rep. Chet Pollert, sponsor of HB 1521

Being familiar with the “behind-the-scenes” in Bismarck, it makes me curious who assisted Pollert and Wardner in carefully crafting HB 1521. The bill softens the impacts of Measure 1 on both lawmakers and lobbyists. Was the Chamber, the Catholic Conference, or one of the lobbying groups who spent tens of thousands of dollars against Measure 1 in the midterm, but too afraid to publicly speak at the hearing, in any way involved in the crafting of HB 1521?

Legislators have the power to change the very laws of North Dakota. Why, then, is a legislator held to a lower standard than a part-time filing clerk?

Matthew Messana’s remarks during public testimony on HB 1521.

Senator Warnder said legislators on the committees “got a lot of work ahead” of them. The “work” certain lawmakers are placing on themselves is to find ways to water down requirements they never wanted in the first place. This really isn’t as difficult as their whines would have you believe.

Opposing HB 1521 was a public employee, Matthew Messana, who took a vacation day from his job to make his case as a private citizen. A bold move showing more courage than those heavily invested in this process who didn’t dare rise up but would rather stay in the shadows. The point he made needs to be repeated throughout this process of creating ethical standards and enforcement on lawmakers. “Legislators have the power to change the very laws of North Dakota. Why, then, is a legislator held to a lower standard than a part-time filing clerk?”

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