Just Admit You Made a Mistake Governor Burgum

Gov. Doug Burgum talks about his vision for North Dakota on Thursday, April 19, 2018. David Samson / The Forum

“This is only an issue with a couple hundred people on social media.”

That’s what Governor Doug Burgum reportedly told the Bismarck Tribune’s editorial board when the issue of the last-minute gutting of the powers of the Auditor’s Office came up.

The exchange was mentioned in a column by Tribune publisher Gary Adkisson, who promises that his publication will be sure to remind voters of what happened during the election cycle. “If they decide to leave the problem for a fix in the next legislative session many of them may not be around to participate,” he wrote. “After all, there is an election preceding the next session and we will be sure to remind the voters what the governor and Legislature did in the closing hours of the 2019 session.”

It’s worth remembering that the legislation – which came out of the blue in the closing days of the session and forces the state Auditor to come begging to a legislative committee for permission to perform performance audits – had bipartisan support. Every single Democrat in the Legislature voted for it. The legislation passed unanimously in the Senate, and with only opposition from a faction of the Republican majority in the House.

Burgum, whose office was the subject of a high-profile performance audit not that long ago, declined to exercise his line item veto on the legislation.

This is most definitely not an issue only for a “couple of hundred” social media cranks, as Burgum suggests. There is a referendum campaign in the works for the legislation. People are upset, Even lawmakers who voted for the legislation are conceding that it went too far, though legislative leaders say it’s not enough of a mistake to call lawmakers back ti Bismarck to address.

Back to Burgum’s testy response to the Tribune on this issue, I think it’s symptomatic of something I wrote about earlier this week. Republicans have been so successful for so long they seem to have forgotten that election victories are won by making voters feel heard and respected.

Though that only explains things for Republicans. I’m not sure what the Democrats were doing.

Mistakes happen in governance. Elected leaders are human, and public policy is complicated. What was done to the Auditor’s office was a mistake. I can easily be undone. Lawmakers could return to Bismarck and fix the bill. Governor Burgum could call a special session to allow lawmakers to fix the bill.

Those would be appropriate responses to this mess.

What’s not an appropriate response is to dismiss anger over this legislative assault on the Auditor as the product of internet cranks.

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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