Here’s What North Dakota Lawmakers Said They Learned on That Nearly $90,000 Trip to Nashville

A group of North Dakota lawmakers and loybbists pose for a picture in Nashville, Tennessee, while attending a National Conference of State Legislatures event. Photo posted on Facebook by Rep. Jake Blum (R-Grand Forks)

Earlier this week I wrote about a group of Republican and Democratic state lawmakers who, along with a group of lobbyists from the state, attended a National Conference of State Legislatures summit in Nashville, Tennessee.

The lobbyists on the trip paid for at least one big meal at the Country Music Hall of Fame, which was what I focused on in my original post in the context of North Dakota’s new ethics laws, but while writing about that part of the story I noticed that House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, who is chairman of the interim Legislative Management Committee which oversees this sort of thing, had tasked attending lawmakers with justifying their attendance and its cost (nearly $90,000 for the lawmakers and staff) in the form of a report.

I was curious about that, so I put in an open records request to see if a) the lawmakers actually followed through and b) what they reported.

To the first question, all of the lawmakers in attendance submitted a report.

Cook’s presence on the trip was curious in its own right, given his announced retirement back in July. All due respect to the man, but did the taxpayers really need to pay nearly $4,000 for him to attend this conference to get ideas for policymaking he’s not going to be a part of?

To the second question, you can read what they reported right here.

Some lawmakers were more detailed than others. Senator Merrill Piepkorn (D-Fargo) and Rep. Vicky Steiner (R-Dickinson) were notably verbose in filling out their forms. Others like Rep. Matt Eidson (D-Grand Forks), Rep. Mike Nathe (R-Bismarck), and Senator Dwight Cook (R-Mandan) didn’t provide much detail at all.

Cook’s presence on the trip was curious in its own right, given his announced retirement back in July. All due respect to the man, but did the taxpayers really need to pay nearly $4,000 for him to attend this conference to get ideas for policymaking he’s not going to be a part of?

Some of the contacts the lawmakers reported making are interesting. Senator JoNell Bakke (D-Grand Forks) reported making contact with left-wing activists and CNN talking head Van Jones on the topic of “justice reform.”

Rep. Mike Brandenburg, a Republican from Edgely and outspoken proponent of wind energy, reported meeting with a representative from NextEra Energy, which is a big player in the wind power industry.

Two lawmakers – Rep. Jake Blum (R-Grand Forks) and Rep. Jim Jim Grueneich (R-Jamestown) made word-for-word identical reports of their contacts at the conference. I guess they must have been attached at the hip or something.

Anyway, again, all of the reports are here if you want to read through them. I provide them because these trips routinely get scrutiny and criticism, mostly because of their expense and glitzy destinations. The cost of the trips are significant, and so it’s worth understanding just what value the lawmakers themselves felt they got out of them.

Kudos, by the way, to Rep. Pollert for requiring these reports.

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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