This will not come as a surprise for anybody who pays attention, but North Dakota conservatism is not the same as conservatism in other parts of the Country. I believe that frustrates many people on both sides of the political aisle. Those on the right become frustrated because of a perceived lack of party purity and a lack of dedication to Ayn Rand or Ronald Reagan inspired philosophy. Those of us on the left become frustrated because North Dakota conservatism is often very pragmatic and can often be hard to run against.
In my experience, North Dakota conservatism is rooted in the work ethic of farms, ranches and small business. When you are a farmer, a rancher, or a small business owner you not only care about your own livelihood, but the livelihood neighbors and the health of the community in which you live.
The North Dakota brand of conservatism also believes that it is better to spend less than you take in, and to save money for a rainy day. I have a friend of mine who is a banker in southcentral North Dakota, right in the middle of the German Russian pyramid. He tells me the customers in his banks in that part of North Dakota often have very large CD’s they purchase from the bank. Even though the banks pay very low interest on CD’s, and his customers could likely make more money in other investments, they stick to CD’s because they are safe and they want to ensure their money is not at risk.
However, there is an ongoing battle in the state to eliminate this more traditional North Dakota conservatism and replace it with a more ideologically pure national brand of conservatism. For example, let’s look at taxes. If you look at total tax burden, North Dakota ranks 36th in the nation. In other words, only 14 states in the Union have a lower individual tax burden. Now we all agree that taxes can and should be amended, however, by no stretch of the imagination is North Dakota a high tax state.
Despite this fact, for years now, people on the ideological right in North Dakota have been fighting to eliminate one or more of the tax systems we use. Back in 2012, anti-tax advocates across the state initiated a constitutional amendment to eliminate property taxes in the state. This year, some North Dakota lawmakers, led by Rep. Scott Louser of Minot, has proposed taking the state income tax down to zero. Rep. Al Carlson, the House Majority Leader, has also announced that he will be promoting legislation which would also take North Dakota’s corporate income tax rates down to zero.
I question if these moves are really North Dakota conservative or just ideologically conservative. Eliminating any of the tax systems completely makes us more reliant on other forms of taxes. Look at Alaska for example, which is often used as an example of an oil producing state with no income tax. Due to the fall in oil prices, Alaska is facing a $3.5 billion budget deficit.
Does that sound like North Dakota Conservatism?
Another fine example of ideological conservatism on a state level is Kansas. Starting in 2012, Gov. Sam Brownback began cutting corporate and individual income taxes aggressively. He plan called for eventually zeroing out the income tax completely. Brownback quickly became a favorite for the Presidency among many and was an absolute rock star in the Republican Party.
Then, it all fell apart. Today Kansas, once boasting a reserve of $380 million, is facing a $700 million deficit, and the Governor is cutting k-12 school funding to balance the books.
Again, does that sound like North Dakota conservatism?
The bottom line is that North Dakotans can and should learn from states like Alaska and Kansas and reject illogical conservatism and stick to the type of conservatism our state has been built on.