Published February 18, 2022

The Very Road They Tried to Avoid 

Written by
Greg Demme
| The Dakotan
In the opinion of Greg Demme
Greg Demme, columnist, The Dakotan
In the opinion of Greg Demme
Greg Demme, columnist, The Dakotan

ND legislature’s fumbled sub-districting demonstrates submission to fear 

Every once in a while, a pithy film line displays substantial wisdom. In the animated movie Kung Fu Panda, Master Oogway tells a spooked Master Shifu, “One often meets his destiny on the road he takes to avoid it,” a quote slightly adapted from that penned by 17th-century French poet Jean de La Fontaine.  

Oogway’s statement indicates that fear-driven decisions often produce the very outcome the decisionmaker dreaded in the first place. The Bible also warns against a fundamental enslavement to fear, for example in Proverbs 29:25 — “Fear of man will prove to be a snare.” It seems many in the North Dakota legislature need to learn this lesson.  

Yesterday, The Dakotan reported that two tribes, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa, Belcourt, and the Spirit Lake Tribe, Devils Lake, have sued the state of North Dakota in federal court because of the sub-districting that was enacted in the redistricting plan passed by the legislature in the November 2021 special session.  

During the committee hearings and the floor discussions about the redistricting plan, the repeatedly offered reasoning justifying the sub-districting in both district 9, related to the tribes above, and district 4, related to the MHA nation on the Fort Berthold reservation, was that the situation as it stood violated the Voting Rights Act, and that the legislators didn’t want the state to get sued. The argument presented by Rep. Austen Schauer, R-Dis. 13, West Fargo, in the November 9, 2021, House floor discussion was that South Dakota had been sued and lost and that the North Dakota legislature should “put our state in the best possible position to defend itself if we are sued.”  

Rep. Devlin, R-Dis. 23, Finley, the chairman of the Redistricting Committee, supported the sub-districting, because it was, in his words, “settled federal law,” i.e., the Voting Rights Act.   

But Rep. Terry Jones, R-Dis. 4, New Town, plainly testified that the very act of implementing sub-districts without ever having conducted a polarization study would likely lead to a Shaw violation, a legal precedent stemming from Shaw v. Reno (1993) in which it was determined that sub-districts had been implemented incorrectly, in violation of the Voting Rights Act. 

Rep. Dan Ruby, R-Dis. 38, Minot, at least understood the situation clearly, having taken into account Rep. Jones’s clarification. “Now, we keep hearing there’s a good case for a legal challenge. First of all, I really detest legislating at the threat of vetoes, initiated measures, referrals, or being sued. We should do what we think is best…. We’re going to end up in court one way or the other.”  

As we see from yesterday’s report, Rep. Ruby was correct. The state is now being sued because they chose to implement sub-districts, and the justification of the lawsuit is that these sub-districts violate the Voting Rights Act, the “settled” federal law Rep. Devlin and others (such as Rep. Mike Nathe, R-Dis. 30, Bismarck) so quickly bowed down to. This is exactly the road so many of them wanted to avoid, being sued for violating the Voting Rights Act. 

This actually brings up an issue I brought up in my most recent editorial. Too many of the legislators wanted little more than to finish the special session as quickly as they reasonably could, rather than getting things right the first time. They worked hard, don'cha know? 

Voters of North Dakota: during this upcoming election season, you have the opportunity to decide whether you want legislators who govern in reaction to fear or whether you want legislators who will govern on sound principle and reasoning.  

How much lunacy in reaction to fear has taken place in our state government during the last two years? Draconian mask mandates, vaccine mandates, lockdowns — they’ve all been based on fear, and most of those measures are now being outed as misguided to begin with, as many of us knew from the beginning they were.  

What say you North Dakota? Shall we continue to live in fear, and allow our elected officials to govern out of fear, or shall we live in liberty and choose those who will govern on sound principles? 

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