Do We Elect Politicians To Govern, Or To Appoint Boards And Commissions?


According to opinion editor Tom Dennis at the Grand Forks Herald, what higher education in North Dakota needs is Commission on Higher Education Governance that will report to the legislature how higher education should be governed.

Of course, North Dakota has already tried this. In 1999 the Roundtable on Higher Education was formed. In 2000 it produced a report and in 2001 the state legislature adopted the findings of that report.

The result, more than a decade later, is that higher education is still a mess with taxpayers and students paying skyrocketing costs to produce mediocre academic outcomes, at best.

But my intent here isn’t to gripe about higher education governance. My point is that we need to stop allowing our elected leaders to create buffers between themselves and tough decisions by creating boards and commissions.

Already the State of North Dakota has a tobacco prevention board. This legislature has just created a conservation board to oversee expenditures out of a $30 million/biennium outdoor heritage fund.

The idea of experts, or “stake holders,” given leeway to govern a certain area of public policy has a certain technocratic appeal to it. Why let mere politicians make decisions when you can delegate the authority to experts?

Yet, in doing so, we also allow our elected leaders to escape accountability for governing. Don’t like higher education policy? Don’t blame the legislators, they’re just implementing the higher education commission’s findings! Upset with conservation appropriations? Blame the conservation board!

This tends to be a problem in North Dakota because of our part-time legislature. A lot of policy delegation gets excused because we have citizen legislators who aren’t on the job full time.

Like most conservatives, I’m not keen on the idea of a full-time legislature, but I’m less keen on the state being governed by full-time bureaucrats and boards of special interest groups.

If we elect people to govern, they should govern not delegate the tough decisions to someone else.