North Dakotans value hard work. A recent analysis by WalletHub, using ten key indicators, placed North Dakota as the 2nd hardest working state in the U. S., trailing only Alaska. Most North Dakotans teach their children at an early age the value of hard work, and that instilled training tends to last a lifetime.
I think about hard work in the context of this past week’s legislative special session. I had the opportunity to cover the entire special session in Bismarck for The Dakotan. I attended most of the meetings of the House Delayed Bills Committee and the Joint Technical Corrections Committee, most of the floor debates of the House of Representatives, and even a few on the Senate side. On the first day I was even able to observe part of the We The People rally and talk with many rally attendees afterward inside the Capitol. I worked harder and longer last week (and in the weeks leading up to the session) than I have during many other times of my life.
For years I’ve written that most of the issues we face in our state and nation are complex, and they usually require complex solutions. Only the most bland, harmless bills will placate everyone. Solving the problems we have is usually far more complicated than either side of the political aisle tends to admit. In the floor debates and committee hearings, I witnessed this complexity.
Does the bill we are currently considering conflict with any other aspects of current state law? What kind of unintended consequences could result if we pass this bill into law? Who are we hurting by this bill and how, and is that harmful impact outweighed by who we are helping? How does this bill at the state level affect city and county governments, and how does it coincide with or conflict with federal law? All these questions and many more like them are necessary to ask in the process of creating, discussing, recommending, and either defeating a bill or passing it into law.
Unfortunately, it seems some of our legislators use this inherent complexity to avoid making courageous decisions. Over and over I heard the following: “We should not pass this bill now, but instead we should study it further and take it up in our next full session (in 2023).” The intent of this statement usually indicated a desire to not act on an issue at this time out of a fear of the unknown.
Citizen and legislator perceptions over the duration of the session also differed. On Monday, Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dis. 37, Dickinson, said his goal was to finish the session in five days. But the citizens I spoke to throughout the week overwhelmingly told me they believed the whole process was being rushed, instead of allowing time for more testimony before the committees. Most of the legislators on both sides of the aisle to whom I posed the question, “Do you feel as if this session is being rushed?” didn’t share that belief. Sen. Dick Dever, R-Dis. 32, Bismarck, told me the Appropriations Committee had been meeting for weeks in advance. The Redistricting Committee had also met many times between August and the November session. Only a small minority of the legislators I spoke to believed that the session should have been slowed down in order to consider items and issues more carefully and thoroughly.
I began this editorial discussing the notion of hard work. Nearly every one of us has found ourselves in a situation in which we had been working our tails off only to realize we were pursuing the wrong goal. If you work all day digging a foundation for a house, but then you discover the house is supposed to sit on a different spot on that parcel, or even on a different parcel entirely, was your hard work as valuable as you initially thought?
Throughout this session, especially toward the end, you couldn’t sit in a meeting without hearing legislator after legislator congratulate each other on all their hard work. But I rarely heard anyone ask the question: in the midst of all our hard work, are we doing right by the citizens of North Dakota, or are we simply serving special interest groups? I was shocked at how blatantly many of the legislators, especially in the Senate, admitted openly in floor debate they were representing not the individual citizens of North Dakota who elected them, but instead the interests of certain businesses, under the pretext of “providing a safe workspace for employees,” as Sen. Jim Roers, R-Dis. 46, Fargo, put it.
The basis for the somewhat heated interchange on the House floor Nov. 9 between Rep. Jeff Hoverson, R-Dis. 3, Minot, and House Majority Leader Rep. Chet Pollert, R-Dis. 29, Carrington, concerned this contrast between hard work and good work. When Rep. Pollert responded to Rep. Hoverson’s question about the fairness of the redistricting plan that had been passed, Rep. Pollert spoke about the hard work the committee had put into the plan. Rep. Hoverson immediately responded back, “The question wasn’t, ‘How hard did you work?’ The question was, ‘Was it fair?’”
I concur with all the legislative leadership: most of you legislators worked very hard this week, especially those serving on the various committees (Appropriations, Redistricting, Delayed Bills, Joint Technical Corrections). And like many of you, I too was relieved on a personal level when the crazy week was over.
But I follow up that commendation with the pointed question: did you really help the citizens of North Dakota? Was spending all of the $1.4 billion ARPA funds necessary right now? Were those funds spent wisely in every instance? Were the redistricting maps that were presented and accepted indeed fair to the citizens and many of their duly elected legislators? Was the anti-vaccine-mandate bill that passed truly helpful to most of the North Dakotans who face the choice of losing their job or being forced to take an experimental invasive medical procedure they either disagree with or have legitimate concerns about?
Many state legislatures across the nation are challenging the federal government in various areas. Years ago, states began nullifying federal law when it comes to marijuana use. Our own legislature earlier this year challenged the federal government over the Second Amendment rights of North Dakotans. Why can’t the North Dakota legislature protect its own citizens when it comes to federally overreaching vaccine mandates, as our neighboring state of Montana has already done? We need our legislators to exhibit more courage and not just applaud each other for their hard work.