Kingsbury Column: Lynn Helms Is Right About Public Comment


Lynn Helms, and if you don’t know who he is you don’t know enough about North Dakota to be offering an opinion, or even reading this column or any of the inevitable comments it will generate, got into trouble with some because in responding to the Attorney Generals “Special Places” proposal he said he didn’t see any value in public comments.

He shouldn’t have said that. Let me repeat: He shouldn’t have said that. Now, before you write about how wrong you think I am I want to read this again. After you do that I hope this is what you realize: I didn’t say he was wrong to say it. I said he shouldn’t have said it.

He shouldn’t have said it because it is a political reality in the United States that your and my opinion are as valuable as the most qualified person on whatever subject we are talking about. Certainly our votes are. We operate under the principle of one man – one vote. Well, sort of. There is that electoral college where a voteĀ  in a state like North Dakota carries more weight than one in California (thank goodness), or even Minnesota (also thank goodness).

My opinion they teach you in political science classes at college, or even junior high social studies, is as valuable as anyone else’s., Even when we are talking about the science of extracting oil and gas, or any of the energies. That means if Lynn Helms makes a public statement about that subject in general, or a very specific scientific aspect of it the committee charged with deciding an issue is to consider what I have to say as much as what Mr. Helms has to say.

Now, if I was a scientist, more specifically a geologist, or from a related field maybe. If I, or anyone offering a contraire opinion had some qualification, well that is one thing, but anyone?

Mr. Helms is subsequently quoted as saying that it sounds terrible, but he asks us to read the entire quote. When you do you find that what he said is that in his experience most public comments he has read basically only say they are for it, or against it. Some will be against it because there is already too much something. Some say they are for it because we need the energy. Very few offer alternatives, or any scientific comment of any validity regardless of the side they are taking.

Not that he said it, but Mr. Helms comments remind me of the current North Dakota Democratic Party members who write those letters to the editor about how the Republicans are wrong. That is all they say. Unlike the days of especially Art Link, or of some degree George Sinner, Sr. when they offered alternatives.

An example: and again regardless of your feelings on the current situation, former Governor Allan Olson just reminded us of a similar situation with coal concerning the special places issue. Then it was Governor Link who came to the Industrial Commission with a proposal similar to today’s proposal and it passed unanimously and that means with a bipartisan vote. Of course there are no Democrats on the Industrial Commission today, but they could have brought the issue to the legislature. All they were doing last year was writing letters complaining about the Republican bills.

My point of all this, Lynn Helms is right. Certainly if there is a proposal it is his duty to provide the voting members of the commission with all the scientific facts and opinions. It is also, in my opinion, a mistake to make him both the promoter and regulator of energy development in this state. That, however, has also been North Dakota law forever, I think. Never have I ever seen legislation to change it even when the Democrats controlled the government.

So, who’s opinion counts? Well, this is a democracy and if enough people in North Dakota want to return to the days of the disappearing farmers and towns and convince enough people in this state to do so that is what will happen.

But it will only be after they pry my cold dead fingers off the ballot box.