The “Change Agent” Standing up for Public Schools is Under Attack by Special Interests

As NDx pointed out last night, the lobbyists for the oil and gas industry are furious about attempts by the state to collect money the ND Supreme Court determined is owed to public schools. A day before the important Land Board meeting, oil and gas lobbyists sent media and lawmakers their position and talking points. The ND Land Commissioner is in their sights.

The current Commissioner is Jodi Smith. She was hired on a split vote by the Land Board in 2017. At the time of her appointment, the GF Herald reported,Doug Burgum, Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler and State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt voted to offer the job to Smith, who they said is a strong communicator and could be a change agent for the department.” The Commissioner at the time, Lance Gaebe received votes from Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and Secretary of State Al Jaeger.

When a “change agent” gets to work, things can get uncomfortable. It appears, Burgum may not be up for the “change” he voted for in 2017. He is publicly second-guessing the work of the Commissioner when it comes to the collection of royalty payments owed to ND schools. Will the other Board members follow?

Jodi Smith is a bureaucrat. *GASP!* And as a bureaucrat, Smith discovered that politicians in Bismarck had mismanaged and misplaced $262 million that was supposed to go to public schools over recent years. Corrections were made. The law was adhered to because Smith pointed it out.

Lobbyists are hoping to amplify pressure on politicians by questioning a state employee. As expected, some are eager to amplify that message. Not here. We stand with Smith. And we think you should too. According to public records we received, the previous Land Commissioner Lance Gaebe stands with Smith. As do private mineral owners in northwest North Dakota.

Why stand with Smith? For one, she has a proven track record. $262 MILLION returned to ND schools. Her position is also removed from the political pressures consuming Bugrum, Beasler, Schimdt, Stenhjem, and Jaeger. There is no need to worry about political donations for reelection. Perhaps worse yet, there is no need to worry about donations to other projections.

Let me close with this one more time: Spare me if you consider this to be some anti-industry tirade. Without question, the industry’s activity has provided opportunities for the state. It helped build budgets, roads, schools, and shelter the state during economic downturns across the country and in surrounding states. There is much to be grateful for from the activity. I also acknowledge the volatility in the market surrounding the commodity. Answer this question: Do all the positives provided by this activity mean the industry should receive special treatment from the state government when they aren’t in compliance of laws and leases?

Tyler Axness
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