Now Is Not The Time For An Edifice Complex North Dakota

north dakota governors residence

Earlier this year state lawmakers appropriated a total of $5 million – including $4 million in public dollars and $1 million in privately-raised dollars – to demolish North Dakota’s old governor’s residence and build a new one.

The primary reasons for building a new facility are practical. The old one was badly outdated with a leaky roof and mold issues and upgrades needed to make it handicap accessible. But some have decided that the old residence wasn’t stately or grand enough.

Now those feelings – notably from Rep. Jim Kasper (R-Fargo) and Senator Lonnie Laffen (R-Grand Forks) have made their way into the committee in charge of the design process.

But before voting for the concept, commission member Lonnie Laffen, an architect and state senator from Grand Forks, said lawmakers who voted last spring to build a new governor’s residence wanted it to reflect North Dakota’s proud people and felt that the current residence is “a bit underwhelming.”

He said those with goals of a stately and grand residence “would never build a one-story house.”

“I don’t know how we get to stately and grand on Fourth Street without going to two stories,” he said.

You can see the various design proposals on the fundraising website for the residence. They all look appropriate to me, from an aesthetic standpoint, and I’d be fine with any of them as long as they meet practical considerations for the governor’s comfort and safety and whatever public utility the building may have.

So this wrangling over whether or not a particular design is “stately” enough seems a little misguided (the saying about a camel being a horse designed by committee comes to mind).

Besides, it’s more than a little unseemly for state leaders to be demanding more grandness out of this project at a time when the state is facing very real revenue problems. Revenues are coming in below the forecasts used to budget, and that gap is growing. What’s more, state general fund spending has grown by over 250 percent in the last decade making the current revenue issues look a bit more like a spending problem.

To be fair, these dollars on the residence have already been appropriated and accounted for in the state budget, so it’s not like this committee is creating new obligations, but perception is reality in politics. Too much infighting over the governor’s new residence is going to come off as tone deaf and look really, really bad for Republicans.

(I stole the “edifice complex” term from an old John Stossel column about politicians naming things after themselves)