The wait for Doug Burgum’s post-Republican primary pivot away from his hard right fiscal stance is over. After bombarding the state with millions of dollars worth of political messaging about “runaway spending” from the “good old boy’s club” in Bismarck, suddenly Burgum is calling it “smart spending.”
During the primary campaign, Burgum had harsh criticism for leaders in his own party, whom he held accountable for allowing state spending to skyrocket during the oil boom, leaving the state vulnerable now that oil and farm prices have fallen.
But in his news conference Wednesday, Burgum praised legislators for extensive infrastructure spending in North Dakota and said he looked forward to working collaboratively with the legislative branch, if he wins the November election.
“There was a lot of smart spending,” Burgum said, referring to billions of dollars spent on roads, school, water systems and other public works needed in the booming Oil Patch.
Is this just Burgum trying to make nice with the Republican lawmakers he trashed on his way to beating Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem last night? If so, it’s an awfully ham-handed way of going about it.
There are a lot of wounds there to heal. Republican lawmakers across the state are going to spend the rest of this election cycle dealing with the bonfire Burgum started with this “runaway spending” and “good old boys club” stuff. The lawmakers I’ve spoken to say they fully expect to go to Bismarck in 2017 with a smaller Republican caucus because of Burgum.
“At his 1 p.m. press conference, Burgum said he had called Republican legislative leaders, Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, the House majority leader, and Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, the Senate majority leader, but was not able to speak with them,” Patrick Springer reports at the link.
Multiple lawmakers have told me that Carlson was messaging his House caucus last night and telling them not to talk to Burgum until this fall. UPDATE: Another legislative source has contacted me to say that Carlson’s intent was to urge lawmakers to let things cool down before engaging Burgum, not to isolate him.
Clearly, there is a lot of ice there to thaw. Which isn’t to say that criticism of legislative spending is unfair. They spent a lot. But Burgum was pretty harsh, and it’s going to take quite the charm offensive to get lawmakers on his side.
Or maybe Burgum didn’t really think the spending was all that terrible. Maybe this is just Burgum stepping out from behind the fiscal conservative facade he built for himself during the primary campaign.