I know, I know, a bunch of my readers have been waiting for me to do a little North Dakota post-election analysis. I’ve been waiting to see how the new governor starts out. He’s started. Here’s what I think. So far.
Doug Burgum is a lot smarter than me. So I’m not going to use this space to tell him how to run North Dakota. He’ll figure that out. I haven’t been this confident in a governor since Ed Schafer left office. I did use this space to tell the last two governors what I thought of their management abilities. Read whatever you want into that.
I also don’t like to be critical of people I don’t know. For instance, you haven’t read much about Al Carlson on my blog, because I’m pretty sure I’ve never met the man. If I have, he must not have made much of an impression, because I have a pretty good memory. I’m not afraid to take after a lot of other politicians from time to time because they deserve it and I know them well enough to know that they need taking after. Count Jack Dalrymple, John Hoeven, Drew Wrigley, Al Jaeger, Kelly Schmidt, Lynn Helms, Wayne Stenehjem, Douglas Goehring, Mrs. Drew Wrigley, and a few others among them. I’m sorry if I hurt anybody’s feelings who feels they should have been on that list. It was not intentional.
I also tend not to write bad things about my personal friends, even when they do bad things. So you haven’t seen Kevin Cramer’s name, or Heidi Heitkamp’s name, much in my writing. Although I’m about to give up on Kevin.
There’s one exception to all those rules. Donald Trump. If someone is widely known as a doofus, the rules don’t apply.
I know Doug Burgum well enough to know I like him, and prior to his winning the Republican Primary Election over Wayne Stenehjem, I did give him some political advice from time to time. But after his landslide victory in June, I realized he didn’t need any more political advice from me, so that was that.
So instead of advice, I’ve made up a wish list of things that would make me happy if they happened while he is governor. I’m going to start giving him that wish list right here. I’ve been thinking about this since last summer, when it became apparent he was going to be governor. And dang it, you know that he also knew he was going to be governor, and he could have done a better job of getting ready to fulfill some of my wishes during that six months between elections.
I know, I know, he was out making amends with the “good old boys” he spent three months criticizing, helping Republican legislators get elected, and I agree with former Gov. Ed Schafer, who told me the other day he gives Burgum credit for most of the gains the GOP made in the Legislature.
But Geez, enough is enough. An 85 per cent majority isn’t really necessary in the Legislature. I wish he’d have spent more time quietly recruiting people to take over all the departments of state government. So that he could have fired every single Dalrymple appointment, many of them dating back to Hoeven.
So, Wish No. 1. Replace every single department head who worked for Jack Dalrymple. Every one.
I’ve been through a couple of transitions—one coming in and two going out—and I know what is supposed to happen. Everybody submits a resignation letter and the new governor accepts them—sometimes a few survive, but not many. A governor needs his own team, people he can trust. Oh, a few of those wishes are done and I’m happy about that, but I agree with Ed Schafer—they should all go. It’s not necessarily personal-it’s just that if you are going to “reinvent government,” you aren’t going to do it with people who’ve been on the job since John Hoeven became Governor in 2000. And that includes the Tourism Director—a job I know something about—even though she claims she’s not really a department head. She’s the laughing stock of the tourism industry for paying a Grade B no-name soap opera actor almost half a million dollars to star in some TV commercials and fishing brochures. Money wasted that could have gone to actual marketing. She’s the first tourism director who’s claimed that because she is not actually an appointed official, she doesn’t automatically get fired, and that goes back almost 50 years to Joe Satrom.
Generally, I wish there had been complete purge of department heads. Burgum is not going to re-invent government with the same people running it. I heard Ed Shafer say that on the radio the other day. He’s right.
I did tell one of Burgum’s senior staff people the other day that I’ll reserve judgement until the end of 2017, and we’ll see how he’s done by then. I’m still a little frustrated, because he really has known since June he’s going to be governor, and a lot of that could have happened by now. Once the department heads are cleaned out, the new appointees can get on with the business Burgum got elected to do. And I’ll throw in a few wishes from time to time.
Some innocuous wishes. Like this one:
Change the official/unofficial spelling of Bad Lands. Since Ed Schafer came into office, it has been the policy of the state to spell it Badlands, one word. I’ve argued good-naturedly with Ed about this over the years, but he won’t give in. Those are some really bad lands out there, and the Lakota word for them was “makoshika,” which meant “bad lands to travel through.” Bad being the adjective, an adjective those lands deserve, instead of just a one-word noun. Theodore Roosevelt called them Bad Lands. Two words. That’s good enough for me. I’m going to prepare a “wish paper” for submission to Doug about this. Then maybe Ed and I can each make our case, and see who can persuade Doug.
Here are some more serious wishes.
The State Health Department has been reviewing plans for an oil refinery just 2.5 miles from Theodore Roosevelt National Park. It is an outrageous proposal, but just the kind of thing Dalrymple was known to put pressure on his appointees to approve. And the now-retired State Health Officer, Terry Dwelle, succumbed to that pressure time and again. I wish a new Health Officer should make this his/her first priority, since the review process on the application for an air quality permit is underway and a hearing on the water permit will be held next week (more about that soon).
Speaking of the Health department, I might get one on my wishes from the Legislature. I wish the state would create a Department of Environmental Quality, separate from the Heath Department, and there’s legislation in the works this year to do that. Here’s a word of caution, though: Here’s part of an e-mail I received a couple weeks ago. “If you have contacts within the Burgum world, you should caution them that there are some serious allegations about Dave Glatt and at least two others who’ve worked on new regulations regarding radioactive waste. It might take a bit of time but I suspect the allegations will prove to be highly embarrassing to the department, those involved and the person who would make an appointment like Mr. Glatt to head the department in question.” I don’t know any more than that, other than Glatt’s the odds-on favorite to run that new department, and I wish he wouldn’t get it.
I wish that the State Parks Department would get going on building the new state park down by the state prison farm on Bismarck’s south side. They got a big appropriation to do that two years ago and it’s not started yet, and the Legislature could take it back—they will be looking in every nook and cranny for money. Maybe that’s one of the reasons the state parks director was one of the first department heads to be let go.
I wish the state would reactivate the Little Missouri Scenic River Commission. That board could have done a lot in the last few years to protect the Little Missouri River valley from oil development. I wrote a couple of stories about that a while ago, and you can look at them here and here. These two blog links provide a pretty good briefing paper on that. Maybe that’s another reason the state parks director is gone.
Well, that’s a start on my wish list. I expect I’ll have more. This new governor promised to clean out the “good old boys club.” He’s pretty smart. I hope it is going to be fun to watch.