It Seems Certain Legislators Don’t Trust You

Couple the latest legislative restraints placed on local governments with the desired changes to constitutional measures started by North Dakota citizens and it appears legislators don’t trust you. For the most part, they don’t trust local officials to make decisions for their own township, city or county so they created prohibitions on what they can do. They don’t trust North Dakota voters – ironically the same voters that elected them – so they’re giving themselves a potential veto over their vote. Why do voters keep rewarding this behavior at the ballot box?

Many of these politicians campaign on the concept of local control. It reads well on a campaign brochure left on a voter’s door. It also fits neatly with their complaints of federal overreach. Yet, we see time after time an overreach from Bismarck on local governments. They’re for local control-in-campaign-only to get a vote. Unfortunately, too many in the Republican-majority then turn around and create prohibitions including raising barriers on self-governance. They don’t trust you.

Here are just a few examples of legislative overreach in the 2019 session alone. Prohibiting cities from banning plastic bags. Minot Rep. Dan Ruby introduced the bill. He owns a landfill. Prohibiting cities and local law enforcement from participating in a gun buyback program. Prohibiting cities from altering wage mandates in their jurisdiction. An attempt to ease the legislative mandate that school districts meet a 60% voter threshold for new schools was rejected. That state overreach has denied a new school for Williston where 59% of voters had approved a new school, TWICE.

The latest attack on local control came in the form of township setback requirements. What started as a relatively reasonable adjustment was amended in the House Agriculture Committee by Chair Dennis Johnson. Talk around the Capitol is the North Dakota Farm Bureau (NDFB) pushed for changes in township setbacks. Johnson, from Devils Lake, obliged. Recall, the controversy of a proposed pig farm near Devils Lake. The “compromise” from conference committee was to allow the Agriculture Commissioner and Attorney General to have the final say….out of Bismarck.

It isn’t even that local governments were pursuing some of these actions the state now prohibits. But certain legislators don’t trust that they won’t try at some point in the future. Sure, they’ll throw them a bone now and then. The ironic thing is, many legislators began their political careers on county commissions, city councils, township boards, and school boards. Have they forgotten where they came from?

As for voters, don’t forget the most blatantly arrogant attempt by lawmakers to place themselves above voters passed this session. SCR 4001 as amended adds additional barriers to citizen-led Constitutional measures and would give the Legislature the power to say whether or not they approve of the citizen’s vote. If the Legislature deems the public knowledgeable on their measure vote, they would allow it to become law. If lawmakers deem the citizens were too dumb and there must have been “confusion” at the ballot box, the Legislature can reject the measure. Under the amended 4001, the measure would then need to be voted on a second time by the citizens. They’re mad at voters for passing the ethics requirements. They don’t trust voters.

Maybe it is paranoia. Maybe it is a conflict of interest. Perhaps it is a superiority complex for some in the Legislature. Or perhaps they simply think they’re smarter than you. They don’t trust you to make decisions of self-governance. Next time a legislative candidate comes to a voter’s door touting local control, I hope the voter will begin to press them on it. Why do voters keep rewarding their behavior at the ballot box?

Tyler Axness
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