17th century British jurist John Selden once noted, “They that govern the most make the least noise.”
With a firm lock on the state legislature, governor’s mansion, statewide offices, and two of three of North Dakota’s slots in Congress, the NDGOP is certainly doing the most governing of any entity in the state. And, aside from general rhetoric about how well the state is doing (while taking credit despite spurious evidence for actual causation as opposed to correlation), office holders and other leaders following the NDGOP playbook aren’t inclined to make much noise. It’s pretty good strategy for staying in power – why enter the fray when you have the means in place to secure and maintain a spot high above it?
I, however, have no such incentive to stay quiet. As a former Dem-NPL campaign staffer currently hiding out in Mongolia as a high school teacher, debating ND politics is a favorite hobby.* As such, I’ll be writing a recurring column as a liberal counterweight to most of the content on SAB. Side note: I own my personality type as an ENTP (“debater”) but I’m not a gadfly — I’m approaching this as an opportunity to open space for real discussion about issues that matter to North Dakota residents entering from stage left.
[mks_pullquote align=”right” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]It is a reckless state of affairs when Democratic candidates for office are immediately burned at the stake for being “tree huggers” who want to kill economic development merely for stating the obvious, namely that protecting a healthy environment for future generations of North Dakotans is a fight worth fighting.[/mks_pullquote]
The last time I was in North Dakota was about six weeks ago. I’m a pretty seasoned expat, but spending the summer working in Beijing was taking a toll on me. One week, I decided to be stubborn and tough it out without wearing a pollution mask. Forty-eight hours of “pollution sickness” later, I had learned my lesson and was back teaching in a classroom on the 27th floor of a skyscraper.
The smog was so thick we couldn’t see the ground. In addition to being toxic, the smog was a depressing backdrop for life in a city that was pretty unlivable for a variety of other reasons, including not being able to drink the tap water and having to haul all bottled water up six flights of stairs.
Anyway, I broke down and took a 10-day sanity break in ND. The air was so clean and sweet as I stepped off the plane at Hector that I wished I could capture it and put it in an inhaler to use in Beijing upon my return.
It is a reckless state of affairs when Democratic candidates for office are immediately burned at the stake for being “tree huggers” who want to kill economic development merely for stating the obvious, namely that protecting a healthy environment for future generations of North Dakotans is a fight worth fighting.
If you follow the money, a decent chunk of these ads are funded by campaign donations from the polluting interests in question. Regardless of the outcome of Citizens United, the simple fact remains that corporations do not engage in respiration nor get dehydrated. There are ways to balance sustainable economic development with respecting our human habitat, but it requires making noise when players in the energy industry try to take advantage of our silence.
Let’s take a very recent example.
According to the Fargo Forum from , the PSC voted unanimously to approve a pipeline to be built by the company responsible for a major oil spill into the Yellowstone River earlier this year. The company, Bridger Pipeline LLC, is a subsidiary of True Companies of Wyoming. A quick check on the ND Secretary of State’s office shows that Henry A. True contributed $400 to Friends of Brian Kalk in late 2014.
To be fair, the Fargo Forum article cited Commissioners Julie Fedorchak and Randy Christmann more heavily than Kalk, but it would seem suspect that a company planning to bring cases in front of the PSC would make a contribution directly to a member of the PSC.
(A quick search of the PSC website shows Bridger Pipeline LLC had multiple cases before the PSC in the period following the campaign contributions.)
At the very least, it’s a material disincentive to make noise by denying a permit. Why risk next cycle’s contribution? I’m not presenting this as a bombshell because it’s not. It’s a quiet continuation of business as usual that shouldn’t be.
I’m not arguing bribery – I’m not even arguing ethics. I’m arguing effects. The desire to want children and grandchildren to be able to enjoy all the things that make North Dakota great doesn’t have a party affiliation. After all, it was President Nixon who proposed the EPA itself. But in practice, it does not seem that the NDGOP is willing to speak up in order to make this reality likely. Their silence is politically strategic, no doubt, but it’s not sound policy. Beijingers don’t really have a choice given the damage that has already been done and their system of government. But Nodaks do, and it’s a debate that deserves to be acknowledged and taken seriously (Read: Republican candidates, stop dodging debates generally). Loaded rhetoric might be effective in making Democratic candidates disappear, but it won’t do the same thing for environmental degradation.
Stay tuned for next week’s edition on gun control.
*This is true. If you try to send me hate-mail via snail mail by looking up my place of residence in North Dakota (I do vote absentee in D24), all it will accomplish is making my parents very sad, and they don’t deserve that.