Dorso Column: Reflecting On Important Issues In The Legislature

As usual the second half of the legislative session is when the more controversial legislation begins to get a lot of attention. This is as it should be and when the citizens should be paying attention. As was noted in SAB, bills and resolutions passed now are only the governor’s signature away from being enacted.

Because this is the case my column may seem to meander as I comment on some legislation.

The passage of HCR 3047 (replacing the SBHE Board with and appointed chancellor) in the house doesn’t assure you will get to vote on the measure. The senate must still take it up and you can bet that SBHE, the university presidents, The Forum and others will mount a vocal and strident campaign to kill the resolution in the N.D. Senate. If it were somehow to pass the senate the same voices that campaigned against removing the names of the institutions from the constitution over a decade ago will be heard again. The advocates of the status quo are many and powerful.

In many ways I would like to see the measure go on the ballot. I am not very hopeful that it would pass at the next general election as the voices that will be so strident during the senate deliberations will be even more dedicated to its defeat. They will have the Forum and other media outlets at their disposal while the legislators who advocate the change are somewhat hamstrung. Hopefully blogs such as SAB and others will be able to level the playing field.

Whether or not HCR 3047 passes the senate, it is time for a reasoned debate on the fate of the North Dakota University System to take place. There is no doubt that a dysfunctional governance system is in place. For proof all one has to do is peruse the news articles surrounding the present chancellors short tenure. At some point the citizens of North Dakota are going to have to decide what that fate shall be.

During a recent discussion with a retired college English professor I was surprised to find agreement that the quality of students entering college has fallen precipitously over the last thirty years. The fact that he is a Democrat added to my amazement. He opined that the majority of students have little in the way of critical thinking skills, study skills or for that matter respect for the education the faculties are trying to impart.

Although I support the concepts Majority Leader Carlson is advocating in HCR3047 I don’t think that is the full answer to the dilemma surrounding our universities. We must look at the underlying issues concerning education. My friend, the professor, thinks the issues begin in our middle schools and carry on through high school.

The recent debate in the house over tax payer support of private educational facilities was entirely too short. Well it centered on the use state dollars it didn’t give enough weight to the quality of education. If we truly care about this democracy and the fate of future generations we must face up to these challenges.

I note that the recent childishness in the house exemplified by name calling has infected the senate Democratic caucus. Walking off the floor in a snit and not voting should never be condoned. I commend Senator Wardner for the way he handled the situation. A call of the house would have been in order, forcing Senator Triiplett to vote. There is no excuse for a legislator taking a walk on a vote.

A Republican did it while I was the Majority Leader. I wasn’t aware of it until later that day when the Speaker brought it to my attention. I immediately called the perpetrator into my office and had a discussion. The next day I expected the legislator to rise on a matter of personal privilege and apologize, announcing how they would have voted and requesting it be reflected in the journal.

I suspect that the Majority Leaders have had a discussion with their members suggesting that these types of shenanigans will be dealt with. I can only hope that the Minority Leaders are doing the same. I am surprised that this type of behavior has come about. I wonder if it is because there is a general loss of decorum in society or that the rules of behavior are not stressed enough by the older members in each chamber.

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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