North Dakota lawmakers have voted to commence the early work of suing Governor Doug Burgum over some of his vetoes issued earlier this year, but when I used the word “suing” to Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner (R-Dickinson) yesterday downplayed it.
“We have a difference of opinion,” he said. “We need a third party to decide it.”
He said Burgum is guilty of “selective deletion” in some of his line item vetoes.
North Dakota governors have line-item veto authority on appropriations bills, but can’t use that authority to modify the intent of bills. As an example, if some bill passed by the Legislature says the North Dakota University System “shall not” spend money on some project the Governor can’t change the meaning of the bill by deleting just the word “not.”
Last year, during his gubernatorial campaign, Burgum was pretty rough with the Legislature in his rhetoric. He lambasted what he called the “good old boys club” in Bismarck over and over again. It worked with voters, but it clearly left some lawmakers with their noses out of joint.
I asked Wardner if that political dynamic was playing into this decision to launch a legal fight with Burgum over his vetoes. “There might be some legislators who feel that way. I don’t,” he said. “I’d forgotten about that.”
He said what matters to him is clarifying whether Burgum used his veto authority appropriately. “We need to have an answer from the judiciary.”
Wardner also pointed out that the lawsuit isn’t a certain thing. “This isn’t final yet. We need one more vote,” he told me. What lawmakers have voted to authorize so far is the development of the estimated costs of the proceedings as well as the arguments lawmakers will make against the vetoes.
In the mean time, the legislation impacted by the vetoes will be on hold Wardner said. The current biennium ends on June 30.
Here’s our full interview: