ND Legislature Week 2 Hall Of Shame: Senator Rich Wardner, Rep. Al Carlson


During the last legislative session we here at SAB awarded a weekly “RINO of the Week” award to a Republican legislator who strayed the furthest from what are supposed to be the principles of the party. I wanted to do that again this week, and we did name a RINO for the first week (Governor Jack Dalrymple in a rare executive branch pick), but I think it might be well if we change the name for two reasons.

First, RINO stands for Republican In Name Only, but the problem is that “Republican” means a lot of different things these days. Especially here in North Dakota, the NDGOP doesn’t seem to stand for anything more than winning elections. They’re very, very good at that, but not so good on the platform of ideas the advancement of which should be the goal of winning those elections.

Second, while it may sometimes seem like Democrats don’t really do anything in our Republican-dominated legislature, that’s only because they’re so thoroughly marginalized. But they do come up with a lot of bad ideas, and they should be included in this as well.

So, instead of RINO of the Week, we’ll be inducting new members to the SAB Hall of Shame this legislative session. And in the second week, as the legislature continues to sort the major issues into committees while picking off the legislative low hanging fruit, there were two clear winners.

Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, and House Majority Leader Al Carlson.

Here’s why: On Monday of last week I sent an open records request to Legislative Council asking for all of the comments users of the new legislative bill tracking system may have posted on the bills they’re tracking. Not so much because I wanted to see the comments (I don’t believe they should be public), but because it was pretty clear that there was a loophole that might allow those records to become public and I wanted to see how Legislative Council, and the legislature, would react.

Boy did they ever react. My request still hasn’t received an official response, but it did spur Wardner and Carlson to rush through the House and Senate a bill closing off access to the records. That bill wasn’t subjected to any of the regular process a piece of legislation goes through. There were no committee hearings, and so no real opportunity for committee or even public input.

I actually agree with the legislation as passed, but this situation was handled poorly. There should have been a debate. There should have been public input. And the proper way for a legislature that is truly committed to openness and transparency isn’t to stonewall a good-faith, if controversial, open records request while playing hurry-up with legislation to block it.

Democrat leadership in the House and Senate objected to the bills being pushed through so quickly, and they were right to do so. Carlson and Wardner have kicked off this legislative session on a sorry note.