How About Some Credit for North Dakota’s Legislature?

State officials take time to meet between legislative meetings on Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2015, at the State Capitol in Bismarck, N.D. (Logan Werlinger/Grand Forks Herald)

Recently Time magazine listed the North Dakota Legislature as reason number 86 to love America. The article doesn’t seem to be available online anywhere that I can find. Apparently publishing things in print exclusively is still a thing?

Anyway, a friend took a picture of the article and sent it to me (I’m not a Time subscriber) and you can see it here. The thesis of the piece is that North Dakota’s very open, very participatory Legislature is “a government Jefferson could love.”

I thought that was apt.

You’ll people talk about how the “system is rigged” by the “good old boys club” or something, when really they’re just upset that the democratic process produced a result they disagree with.

The author of the article contacted me while he was doing his research, though he didn’t ultimately quote me in the piece. But several of the points I made were referenced (I’m sure others made them too). Our lawmakers are very accessible. They read their emails from their constituents, and on the whole are very responsive to them. It’s often said that even just a few emails on a bill from a constituent will make a lawmaker sit up and take notice.

And heck, the official directory for our lawmakers shows that many of them will list a personal cell phone number, and even a home number and address, for constituents to reach them at. That’s pretty remarkable, and probably contributes to the approval rates for North Dakota governance which routinely score in the 60 – 70 percent range in a country where most state governments would be happy to have 30 percent approval.

The Grand Forks Herald has an editorial today touting the Time piece and giving some credit to our Legislature. Many won’t want to hear that. Hating on politicians is fashionable these days. Even politicians who do generally take their jobs seriously and honestly aspire to do the best they can by their constituents.

We just came through a primary cycle where a Republican gubernatorial candidate, Doug Burgum, railed against the “good old boys club” in Bismarck. That tactic earned him a landslide victory, but I wonder how many of the people who bought into it have ever bothered to testify on a bill important to them at the capitol? Or pick up the phone and call their local lawmaker?

Heck, I wonder how many of them could even name their lawmakers? I would be shocked if it were even a sizable plurality.

Truth be told, we’re very lucky in North Dakota. Our politicians are very open, very accessible, and very responsive. Sometimes the public confuses disagreement over the policy agendas these elected leaders push with the efficacy of the process through which they’re pushed. You’ll people talk about how the “system is rigged” or something, when really they’re just upset that the democratic process produced a result they disagree with.

It’s very galling to lose a policy fight. I can attest to that as someone who has lost plenty. And it’s very easy – particularly for those who don’t spend a lot of time paying attention – to blame “the system” or “the establishment” for an outcome you don’t like.

We should avoid that, at least here in that state, because for the most part it isn’t accurate.

Even if the North Dakota Legislature isn’t creating the sort of policy outcomes you prefer, I think we all should admit that the process in our state works pretty well.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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