John Dorso: Common Core Debate Has Resulted In A Fine Legislative Mess


Normally I wouldn’t have much to say concerning HB 1461 the repeal, if you can call it that, of Common Core. I haven’t followed the arguments nationally or in the state of North Dakota. I have to be honest however. If it were up to me there would be no U.S. Department of Education. Of course I don’t think we need a U. S. Department of Energy either so you know my mind set.

What interests me is the twist and turns that have occurred as the bill has made its way to this point in the legislative process. As I perceive it on one side is Rep. Jim Kasper conservative Republican who never has been one to duck a controversial issue which is what HB 1461 has turned out to be. On the other side we have the more liberal educational establishment as personified by the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction and Senator Tim Flakoll Republican Chairman of the Senate Education Committee.

You might be asking why I lump Sen. Flakoll in with the liberals. It is hard not to when the only way I can imagine that The Fargo Forum got the information the Senator had concerning a public records request that Rep. Kasper made of DPI was if someone at DPI tipped him off. I’m quite confident someone at DPI in conjunction with Sen. Flakoll figured the easiest way to derail the bill was to divulge the extent of Rep. Kasper’s request for what would have been a very exhaustive and expensive search of their records.

Senator Flakoll is also the prime sponsor of SB 2222 which would curb legislators/legislature from making open records requests. The impetus for that bill must have come from the folks in the Higher Education system in North Dakota. I don’t think they were very happy to be caught numerous times violating the open records laws of North Dakota when legislators made inquiries of their records. Since Senator Flakoll is associated with the higher ed system it would be a stretch to believe he had any other motive.

I’ll digress here for a moment to say I wouldn’t believe for a minute the size of the dollar figures that DPI put on Rep. Kasper’s request. Legislators are very used to agencies putting big dollar numbers on things they don’t want to do and very reasonable numbers on things the agencies support. At the state and federal level we have witnessed the cost of government escalate at an insane pace. Much of that is because the proponents of a program underestimate the cost at its inception knowing full well that once in place it is hard to get rid of the program. I mentioned above the Dept. of Education and the Dept. of Energy which serve as examples.

I see the scenario as this. A DPI employee contacts Flakoll and tells him of the request Kasper has made and that the dollar number put on the request is very large. Flakoll subsequently makes an open records request through the Legislative Council that just coincidentally includes the dates supplied to him by DPI which will catch the information that will put Rep. Kasper in a bad light. Subsequently Flakoll contacts the Fargo Forum giving them all of the information he has received in his request. The Forum contacts Rep. Kasper who says he has no knowledge of the costs involved in his original request. All of this conveniently happens just before the hearing on contentious HB1461.

If the above scenario is anywhere close to the actual events you as a taxpayer should be concerned.

Senator Flakoll who is Chairman of the Senate Education Committee will hear HB1461 if it is to pass the North Dakota House. How impartial can the Senator be after he took part in this activity? In the end legislators are required to make decisions concerning what is put before them. That doesn’t give them carte blanche to manipulate the process with this type of activity. I always hoped that legislators kept an open mind until they had heard the testimony and got input from the public. At times I myself had pre conceived ideas about a piece of legislation that after hearing the facts I changed my mind. The safest and fairest way, was to never divulge your intentions until you had heard the legislation. That way if you changed your mind you didn’t have to back track. I think most of us can surmise what Sen. Flakoll’s feelings are about HB1461. As a legislator that is bad form, as the Chair of the Committee charged with having a fair hearing on the bill it is quite disconcerting.

We know from the votes in the House Education Committee that the majority didn’t want the bill to pass. The way to insure that happens is to bring to the floor a version most will vote against. If the sponsors can’t improve the concept with amendments recommended out of committee their chances of getting a favorable vote for final passage are pretty remote. According to the legislative site there is a minority report coming out of the committee. That is also a rare occurrence. Most of the time those reports are generated by the minority party. In this case majority party members voted to bring the report to the floor. If you are interested in the fate of HB 1461 watch the vote on the minority report.

I suspect Rep. Kasper or those of a like mind will request a recorded roll call vote on the minority report. That is the only N.D. House vote which will tell you who truly wants to repeal Common Core.

Unless something quite extraordinary comes to pass the die has been cast saving the Senate the need to deal with HB1461. It is also should be the end of what Republicans should consider a quite messy affair.