Roughly 132 years ago, four years before statehood, the leaders of the Dakota Territory created in law the requirement for a state hospital in Jamestown.
Those early politicians did that with a lot of the state’s institutions. Today we have constitutional mandates for the missions and locations of everything from our public universities to the state veteran’s home.
Why? Because of rank parochial politics. Each one of these institutions comes attached with lots of tax dollars and jobs which stimulate local economies. But mandating the location of these institutions doesn’t always make for the best public policy. What if there isn’t sufficient demand for a public university in Mayville? What if it makes more sense for us to move the state hospital somewhere else?
You’d think, 132 years later, that we could maybe recognize that shouldn’t be mandating the location of state institutions in our constitution any more.
You’d think, anyway.
State Senator Tim Mathern, a Democrat from Fargo, proposed SCR4002 (see below) to remove the language mandating the existence of a state hospital in Jamestown from the constitution. After getting a no-vote in committee, it came to the floor where it went down in flames on a 3-43 vote.
Here’s video of the floor debate:
What’s frustrating is how many of the lawmakers who spoke during the debate talked about SCR4002 as though it would have closed down the state hospital. That simply isn’t true.
“This measure does not close down the state hospital,” Mathern said, repeatedly, and he’s right. All it does is remove the constitutional requirement that the hospital be located in Jamestown. If the Legislature wants to continue operating the hospital in Jamestown as it has in the past they would be free to do that.
They just wouldn’t be required by the state constitution to do so.
We have a new Governor in Doug Burgum who has charged our state government with reinventing itself. With finding ways to “right size” and streamline. You’d think legislation like SCR4002 would be just the sort of thing we need to accomplish those goals.
But, even after all these years, the politics which led to the constitutional mandates for these institutions in the first place still speaks louder than sense.