Don’t Let Them Fool You, Lawmakers Knew Exactly What They Were Doing to the Auditor’s Authority

North Dakota Republican Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, right, listens while Gov. Doug Burgum speaks during a bill signing ceremony at the state Capitol Friday, April 26, 2019. John Hageman / Forum News Service

Now that there has been some public blow back over legislation gutting the autonomy of the state Auditor, certain state lawmakers are in full walk-back mode.

There is even some talk of calling the Legislature back into session to address the issue, which was likely prompted by news of a nascent referendum campaign.

I hope lawmakers do go back to Bismarck to fix this. We’ll see what happens. But in the here and now, some of the spin certain lawmakers are engaging in to cover their actions is pretty remarkable.

Yesterday state Rep. Keith Kempenich (R-Bowman) admitted that it was current Auditor Josh Gallion’s aggressiveness which inspired the legislation to limit his powers. Today, however, he’s claiming his own amendment to that end went too far:

Though some lawmakers have maintained the move was related to budget talks and meant to ensure better communication with the Legislature, Kempenich acknowledged it was at least partly intended to “slow the process up” for an auditor who been more aggressive than his predecessor.

But Kempenich said the language was harsher than he intended. He said he was aiming for reporting requirements rather than an approval process, but he acknowledged he “should have been paying a little more attention to that when it was going through.”

Just so we’re clear, Kempenich was the lawmaker responsible for the language. He’s the one who introduced it in the final days of the legislative session. Now he’s claiming he wasn’t paying much attention?

C’mon.

Legislative leadership is also trying to pretend as though they had nothing to do with this:

House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, said the language will need “some tweaking” because “the amendment goes a little farther than what it should.”

“We just want to know what the auditor is up to,” Pollert said.

“The Legislature as a whole, we did not weigh in on that,” Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner is quoted as saying. “It should have been at least talked about in a committee hearing.”

Yes. It should have. This legislation was bad, however it was introduced, but at the very least it shouldn’t have been dropped into a bill at the last minute.

By the way, both Wardner and Pollert voted for this bill.

But is anyone buying that these folks were naive as to what was going on? We’re supposed to believe that none of them was aware of this amendment? Or, at the very least, its implications for the auditor’s independence?

What about after the bill passed? Governor Doug Burgum could have used his line item veto to chop this amendment out of the auditor’s office budget, but he didn’t. He signed the legislation about a week after lawmakers adjourned, and then sent out a statement defending his signature, all while lawmakers stayed silent on the issue.

These people knew what they were doing. Our current auditor has been too aggressive in performing his job, and they set out to clip his wings. It’s only now that they’ve been exposed doing it that they’re expressing remorse.

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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