When Common Sense Trumps Parochialism North Dakota Wins

The original site for the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in Dickinson, N.D., is pictured in 2017. As of May 14, 2017, the project is moving away from Dickinson and will instead be set near Medora. (Sydney Mook / Forum News Service)

North Dakota is a state, not unlike many other states, where the politics of parochialism have led to a lot of bad decisions.

Case in point, our state’s university system has no fewer than eight of its institutions mandated geographically in the state constitution. Not because locating institutions in communities across the state served the state’s education needs the best but because the politicians in those communities wanted the jobs and commerce that come along with those institutions and had enough political juice to make it happen.

Thankfully, in the debate over where to locate the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library, common sense won over parochialism as this editorial from the Fargo Forum over the holiday weekend pointed out:

The drive to build a Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library in western North Dakota has taken an unexpected twist—a move we support, although it has understandably ruffled some feathers. The impetus for this worthy project came from Dickinson State University, which for years has been digitizing documents involving Roosevelt’s colorful life. Roosevelt’s letters and papers are scattered in libraries and archives, but the digital library will be the first central repository of documents involving the 26th president of the United States. Plans originally called for the library to be housed on the campus of Dickinson State University, with a museum to be based near Medora, the gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in the Badlands.

But the board of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation altered course, voting earlier this month to locate both the museum and library near Medora. The North Dakota Legislature had set aside $12.5 million for the library project, provided construction starts before the end of the year. The city of Dickinson contributed $3 million. Not surprisingly, the change in plans isn’t popular in Dickinson, which now will withdraw its financial support. Sen. Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, the Senate majority leader and one of two dissenting votes on the foundation board, has suggested the state’s backing for the project is now in question.

Let’s hope the Legislature doesn’t give weight to Wardner’s pique and withdraw financial support for this project. While I have been skeptical at times with North Dakota’s obsession with Roosevelt, which I feel has come at the expense of much of the rest of our state’s rich history, this library is a good project. It should be located in Medora, which is by far North Dakota’s most popular tourist attraction.

The Roosevelt library and museum will get far more attention in Medora than it would in Dickinson, and given our state’s struggles with a chronic labor shortage, anything which draws more visitors here is a positive.

North Dakota has a perception problem. Many people feel that our state isn’t a very nice place to live. The more visitors who come here and see that isn’t true the less pervasive that unfortunate perception will become.

Governor Doug Burgum deserves credit for having the vision, and the gumption, to cut through the parochialism and push for the Medora location.

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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