Is Governor Doug Burgum All Vision and No Policy?


Governor Doug Burgum is set to deliver a State of the State address in Minot today (a livestream begins here at 10am if you’re interested).

It’s not typical for North Dakota governors to deliver such addresses in between legislative sessions (former Governor Ed Schafer as the first and last to do it) or outside of Bismarck (that’s Burgum’s innovation).

It’s also pretty unusual for a public official to get private sponsorship for official duties. Will Burgum walk out on the stage of the Ann Nicole Nelson Hall on the Minot State University campus with a Chamber of Commerce patch sewn on his suit like he’s a sort of political NASCAR driver?

Who knows.

[mks_pullquote align=”left” width=”300″ size=”24″ bg_color=”#ffffff” txt_color=”#000000″]Remember what campaign trail Burgum had to say about the “good old boys club” in Bismarck? Now the good old boys club is in charge of his policy agenda?[/mks_pullquote]

Anyway, on the morning of Burgum’s big speech my colleague Mike Jacobs has an interesting insight on the governor.

“My conclusion after listening to Burgum’s talk about his Main Street Initiative was that he seeks to provide the vision and the voice, but he expects others to pursue the policies that will revitalize downtown areas across the state,” Jacobs writes in his column today.

“My conclusion about Burgum is that he wants to use the governorship to create spaces for local governments and individuals to develop policy; he doesn’t expect to develop policy all by his lonesome,” he reiterates.

That has the ring of truth to it.

From the beginning of his gubernatorial campaign in early 2016 through today the hallmark of Burgum’s approach to his office has been to articulate a grand vision for the way things ought to be and then leave it to others to execute that plan.

Will it work for the governor? The jury is out. Certainly the 2017 legislative ended without the governor putting much of a stamp on it (outside of a simmering legal battle over some of his vetoes).

Though, to be fair to Burgum, the session started not long after he won election to the office. As a new governor, he really didn’t have a lot of time to prepare policy initiatives for that session.

Still, it seems odd to me that Burgum would choose to play the part of the visionary. That might work in the corporate world, where many CEO’s lead in that fashion, but in state government we have to remember that the Legislature is not a division in North Dakota, Inc.

It’s a separate and co-equal branch of government which has no obligation, outside of assuaging the threat of a veto, to do what the governor tells them.

Burgum expects other policymakers to put meat on the bones of his idea, but this is also the man who won election to his office by railing against those very same policymakers.

Remember what campaign trail Burgum had to say about the “good old boys club” in Bismarck?

Now the good old boys club is in charge of his policy agenda?

If Jacobs’ observation is correct, that’s apparently the case.

Burgum’s predecessors in office – from Jack Dalrymple to John Hoeven to Ed Schafer – were deeply involved in the nuts and bolts of policy making.

Burgum, so far, not so much.

The upcoming 2019 legislative session will be a real test for the governor. Will it be marked by the passage of policy advancing his vision for our state? Or will it only be more infighting with the lawmakers?