Editorial / opinion
With a special session of the North Dakota legislature approaching on Monday, Nov. 8, many North Dakotans may find themselves in one of three primary camps.
“Our elected leaders do whatever they want all the time. I’m frustrated by governmental overreach, and I want to see things change, but I feel helpless. At this point, why bother wasting my time trying to get involved?”
“They’re all bums—just throw them all out of office.”
“I know my legislators. They’re nice people. I’m sure they’re voting how I would want them to vote.”
I encourage my fellow North Dakotans: you have the opportunity and ability to accomplish far more than this.
Grassroots involvement by North Dakotans can have a powerful impact on the way your elected representatives vote. I submit as Exhibit A the anti-mask bill (HB 1323) that went through the legislative assembly this past spring. The Apr. 1st Capitol steps rally and associated evening seminar, the floods of emails and calls to legislators, and the massive citizen attendance in the House and Senate chambers all combined to sway many legislators to vote differently than they otherwise would have. Some legislators actually changed their prior votes when it came time to override Gov. Burgum’s veto, all because the citizens of North Dakota made their position loud and clear.
In the intervening six months since the veto override, I heard at least a half dozen legislators (on either side of the aisle) say they’ve never had more communication and participation by their constituents than on that anti-mask bill. As Rep. Terry Jones (R-Dis. 4, New Town) stated publicly, “The calls, the emails, the attendance, they all moved the needle.”
“The calls, the emails, the attendance, they all moved the needle.”Rep. Terry Jones (R-Dis. 4, New Town)
Our state currently has 47 legislative districts, each with one senator and two representatives. These representatives are the primary means for individual citizens to directly voice their concerns to the state legislature.
If you don’t know which numbered district you currently reside in, click on My Voting Information, then enter your house number and zip code and search the results for your exact address to learn you district information. You can also click on this interactive map.
Current North Dakota Legislators and their contact information can be found by clicking on 67th Assembly Regular Members By District and searching for the three legislators in your numbered district.
Numerous hot-button topics are on the agenda for this special session. Vaccine mandates, ARPA spending, critical race theory in schools, and legislative re-districting are all topics likely to come up next week. If you choose to contact your legislators, here are some tips for effectively communicating your position on those or any other relevant issues.
In communicating your position, it’s both possible and preferable to be direct. We have many complicated issues in our society that often require complicated solutions. Beating around the bush and taking forever to make your point so you don’t hurt someone’s feelings can often be counterproductive. Directness may indeed hurt feelings, but this is your opportunity to be heard, so explain your position directly.
At the same time, it’s also possible and preferable to be polite. You don’t have to be rude to be direct. As the saying goes, you’re more likely to attract flies with honey than with vinegar. Conversely, launching into personal attacks against a legislator will often lead them to simply dismiss your input. There is a time and place for rebuke, but that should be the exception, not the rule.
Legislators need to hear about the real impact their policies have on the lives of real North Dakotans. Explain how the results of a policy will affect (or has already affected) your family, your livelihood, and any other specific aspects of your daily lives. If you’re calling a legislator from your district, let them know you live in that district. If you’re sending an email, provide your address so they know you are one of the citizens they directly represent.
According to the United States and North Dakota constitutions, our elected officials are not our overlords. They hold office in order to represent us. If your legislators (or any other elected officials) are not representing your interests, you have every right to let them know you are watching how they vote on the issues that concern you. If you align with Camp #3 (above), you may not even realize how your legislator is voting on the issues that matter to you. At The Dakotan, one of our stated goals is to help North Dakotans find reliable information about the policies enacted by elected officials, so the citizens who vote them into office can make informed decisions when the next election rolls around.
What if I want to do more?
Some of you may decide you want to get more involved. Another great way to affect the direction of our state is personal attendance.
First, get to know your district chair. You may not align with any one political party, but you can still get to know and communicate with the political party chairs for your district.
For the list of district chairs in the North Dakota Republican Party, click this link and scroll down to “District Chairs.”
For the list of district chairs in the North Dakota Democratic-NPL, click this link and scroll down to find the chair of your numbered district.
The district party meetings have more power and influence than most people realize. Again, this past spring, district committees in Districts 6, 14, 24, and 39 all voted to censure (formally denounce) one or more of the legislators in their respective districts. The exact concerns leading to the censures differed from district to district. This all came about because many district reorganization meetings drew hundreds of citizens when previously it had been difficult to find even a dozen to attend.
You can even personally attend legislative sessions and testify at public hearings in legislative committee. This may be difficult for most people who work and live outside of Bismarck, but don’t forget about this option.
In that light, you also have an opportunity to attend the We The People rally planned for noon on the Capitol steps on Monday, Nov. 8, the first day of the upcoming special session.
Fellow North Dakotans, you don’t have to remain helpless, frustrated, angry, or complacent. With the special session looming next week, don’t lay down your constitutional power to create change in our state. Grassroots involvement is powerful. Use it.