Legislative session begins, new governor entices

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Posted 1/03/17 (Tue)

Passing Dreams
By Steve Andrist

A new session of the North Dakota Legislature is under way, and the most interesting thing about it isn’t the legislature.
It’s the governor.
The legislature, it seems, is always, well, the legislature.
Except when the right wingers decide to gum up the machines with social issues, you can expect the same things from session to session from the lawmakers.
There will be consternating claims that we just don’t have the money we need, gnashing of teeth over how to spend the money we have, anxiety over the level of property taxes, and the session likely will end with everyone regretting that there just wasn’t enough, yet again, to deal with behavioral and mental health.
There will be plenty of important but mundane side issues thrown in -- things like environmental concerns, transportation needs and new voting machines -- along with window dressing measures like raising the speed limit on interstate highways, followed by a renewed commitment to K-12 education.
These are the days of the legislative session. Always have been, always will be.
Of necessity, it’s the business as usual branch of government.
Necessary humdrum.
By contrast, there’s an air of eager anticipation coming from the governor’s office.
Kind of like teenagers getting ready for a first date.
Doug Burgum has never had a date like this one, and he’s promising to make it special.
The high tech mogul with not a whiff of government experience surprised everyone with a no-business-as-usual campaign that resulted in the millionaire businessman’s unlikely election as governor.
He’s spent the weeks since the election laying the groundwork to follow through with his promise of an extraordinary first date.
This story is far more enticing than yet another session of the legislature, and so far the new governor is saying all the right things.
“We want to not be talking about how big people’s budgets are, we want to be talking about how great their results are.”
“We’ve got a chance to really think differently.”
“Sometimes more money isn’t the answer. Sometimes a better idea is the answer.”
“We want to treat taxpayers like customers.”
“We can come up with completely new paradigms in how we think about solving society’s most pressing problems.”
Then again, you never know how that first date is going to turn out until you’ve had it -- or at least gotten part ways into it.
There has to be more than sweet talk, and so far we don’t know anything about the details of those promised new paradigms.
Adding to the uncertainty is that the eager anticipation will be drawn out as we first work our way through the humdrum of legislative business-as-usual.
Which brings us to the first opportunity to think differently. Because the governor and the legislature often act a bit like competitive teammates. They get along because the coach says they have to play nice, not because they’re filled with warm fuzzies.
It could be a challenging start to the era of new paradigms.
Burgum alienated many lawmakers when his campaign was to complain that they’d overspent their means.
They’ve both put on game faces since the election. But word is that legislative leaders are already planning bills to enhance their own power while diminishing the governor’s.
North Dakota already has a weak governor system, and a further legislative power grab could diminish the ability of the governor to introduce new, more efficient methods of solving the pressing problems.
One thing that must be acknowledged about Burgum, though, is that he meets challenges with resolve.
He proved that in the world of business, he proved it in providing the passion and vision for redeveloping downtown Fargo, and he proved it in an election campaign that took him from long shot to sure shot.
All of which suggests that once the business-as-usual legislative session ends, the eager anticipation of a first date may morph into a committed relationship.