Referendum Campaign Forming to Put Question of Auditor’s Power on the Ballot

Petitioners File photo

There has been a lot of controversy over legislation, sneaked into the budget for the Auditor’s office during the closing days of this year’s legislative session, which limits the powers of the state Auditor. Per that legislation, which was signed by Governor Doug Burgum (with feeble justification), the Auditor must now go begging to a legislative committee for permission to conduct performance audits.

It has seemed to many observers, including this one, that the legislation was retribution for current Auditor Josh Gallion who has taken an approach to the duties of his office that has been far more aggressive than his predecessors. Yesterday a state lawmaker, Rep. Keith Kemepenich of Bowman, confirmed that was exactly the motivation. He said the Auditor was embarrassing too many people.

Which, you know, too bad.

Maybe government officials shouldn’t do things which are embarrassing.

Anyway, I can report this morning that a group has formed to refer this issue to the state ballot. Article III of the state constitution allows the referral any legislation – “or parts thereof” – passed by lawmakers to the ballot. That “parts thereof” part is important, as the legislation in question is the budget for the Auditor’s office. Overturning the entire bill would deny the Auditor a budget, making it necessary for lawmakers to come back into session and make a new appropriation.

Thankfully the constitution allows for a sort of line-item referendum.

Last night I messaged with long time state activist Charlene Nelson who confirmed the effort is up and running. “We hope to have something in to the SoS [Secretary of State] by the beginning of next week,” she told me. She said a Facebook page has been created to promote the effort, which you can check out here.

Per the Secretary of State’s office, organizers would need to collect 13,452 signatures to put the referendum on the ballot. They must file those signatures no more than 90 days after the legislation in question was filed with the Secretary of State’s office.

For SB2004 that was May 2, so this campaign has until late July to make this happen.

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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