You'd Think Governing With A Super Majority Would Be Easier


North Dakota’s legislators are getting the morning off to attend the funeral of former North Dakota Governor Bill Guy, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have a lot of work to do. On the 79th day of a constitutionally-constrained 80 session the House and Senate are still miles apart on a lot of key issues.

The House wants $352 million in income tax relief. The Senate wants $100 million less than that. The two chamber haven’t come to terms yet on Governor Dalrymple’s K-12 funding formula yet, or the Department of Public Instruction’s budget. And then there’s the budget for the Office of Management and Budget, which is traditionally the end-of-session catch-all bill that can be a monster to get passed.

All told, there are about 15 key pieces of legislation left to be addressed. That’s a lot for being this close to the end of the session. In fact, some frazzled legislators tell me that Governor Dalrymple may need to call a special session to give them extra days to get their work done.

I’m not sure how serious those legislators are, and it’s hard to imagine the executive branch would see such a delay as acceptable, but you do have to wonder about why this is all so hard.

Shouldn’t governing be easier with a super majority?

From the outside, North Dakota can look fairly homogeneous politically with huge Republican majorities in both houses of the legislature and a Republican sitting in every single statewide elected office. But near-uniformity in party affiliation does not translate into uniformity in ideology.

The bickering over policy in the state legislature doesn’t really break down along partisan lines. If it did, the session would likely be over already with Republicans imposing their will on minority Democrats. But the ideological divide in North Dakota is within the Republican party itself. So what we’re left with is a roughly even split between relatively conservative Republicans and fairly liberal Republicans who are bolstered by support from even more liberal Democrats.

And left-of-center Republican Governor Jack Dalrymple setting the tone with big budget increases, and resistance to tax cuts.

Democrats in North Dakota often complain about being marginalized in the legislative process. But they’re really not. They have plenty of ideological brethren in the Republican majority.