Realtor’s group spends $900K on advertisements urging voters to ‘Vote yes on Measure 2’

By Angie Wieck

Forum News Service

FARGO – Although there is no organized opposition to a measure that would prevent local and state governments from imposing a tax on real estate transactions, the North Dakota Association of Realtors has used nearly $900,000 in Realtor donations for advertisements urging voters to “Vote yes on Measure 2.”

Campaign coordinator Nancy R. Willis said it is necessary because of how the measure is worded.

Realtor and state Rep. Scott Louser, R-Minot, sponsored the measure that states, “The state and any county, township, city or any other political subdivision of the state may not impose any mortgage taxes or any sales or transfer taxes on the mortgage or transfer of real property.”

Willis said an early poll suggested many voters did not understand that a “yes” vote was not an approval of the tax but rather an approval to ban the tax.

She said the bill was introduced in response to discussions about lowering property taxes during the 2012 legislative session.

“There was a concern by Realtors that because the Legislature was talking about appropriating dollars to reduce property taxes, that political subdivisions and local municipalities would be looking at replacing some of that revenue in other ways,” Willis said.

Minnesota and South Dakota are among 35 states and the District of Columbia that collect real estate transfer taxes. In Minnesota, a 0.33 percent deed tax is assessed to the seller as part of the real estate closing process and a 0.23 percent mortgage registration tax is assessed to the buyer when a mortgage is recorded.

Opposition

Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, said there is no organized opposition to the measure because many of those opposed are members of the Legislature and are prohibited from spending tax dollars to lobby.

She believes the measure is unnecessary and calls the ads “deceptive.”

“The ads are really quite deceptive in my view because the ads say ‘stop the tax,’ ” Lee said. “You can’t stop something that hasn’t started.”

She said in her 20 years in the Legislature, lawmakers have never discussed a real estate transfer tax and there is no reason to have a law against something just because it may happen in the future.

Her main concern is that, if passed, the measure will become part of the constitution.

“I’m a purist about the constitution because it should be the basic principles of the laws of the state that allows the Legislature to respond in ways that are appropriate depending on circumstances,” Lee said.

She said it would be different if North Dakota did not have initiative referendum. If the Legislature did impose such a tax, unhappy voters could gather signatures on a petition to get it on the next ballot for a repeal vote.

Lee, who worked in the real estate industry for 35 years, said the bill will have little effect if passed and that it is unfortunate so much money was spent.

“If this passes, the world won’t stop turning,” Lee said. “It’s just unnecessary in my view because it’s not even on the radar. If it’s not going to happen, why bother to spend the money to do this?

“I’m not beating up on my friends. We just have a difference of opinion on this one,” Lee said.

A closer look at ‘right to life’ amendment: Opponents claim ‘vague’ wording could cause unintended consequences; supporters say Measure 1 needed to protect state’s current abortion restrictions

By Ryan Johnson

Forum News Service

FARGO – It’s only 19 words.

But the 19 words in North Dakota’s “right to life” Measure 1 could have a far-reaching impact on a range of health issues, including end-of-life care, infertility treatment and pregnancies with complications endangering the mother’s life, according to its opponents.

Still, supporters say it has a limited purpose: to protect the abortion restrictions already on the books in North Dakota.

Now, the matter is in the hands of voters who will decide if this measure will be approved Nov. 4.

Original intent

Measure 1 got its start in 2013, when Sen. Margaret Sitte, R-Bismarck, and co-sponsors brought Senate Concurrent Resolution 4009 to the Legislature for consideration to be put on the 2014 ballot. If approved, the amendment would add to the state’s constitution: “The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.”

It was originally intended to be a “human life amendment,” Sitte said, and it still is. But that intention shifted following Judge Wickham Corwin’s 2013 ruling that a 2011 law approved by legislators that would have outlawed one of two drugs used in nonsurgical abortions violated the state and U.S. constitutions. The state has since appealed that ruling to the North Dakota Supreme Court.

“As other people started looking at Measure 1, they started realizing this could be a vehicle to stand up to judicial activism, and that whole argument really carried weight in getting it passed in the Legislature,” Sitte said.

Legislators approved four new restrictions on abortion during the 2013 session, including a ban on getting the procedure 20 or more weeks into pregnancy and a ban on abortions based on gender or genetic defects. Several previously passed regulations also remain in effect.

The resolution that put Measure 1 on the ballot was approved by a 26-21 vote in the Senate 26-21 in February 2013, and passed the House 57-35 the following month.

Sen. Judy Lee, R-West Fargo, said she voted against the resolution then – and opposes the measure now – because its “ambiguous” wording could cause consequences in areas far beyond abortion, including access to in vitro fertilization (IVF) and being able to dictate one’s own end-of-life health care decisions.

“Both of those are two different ends of the life spectrum, but they’re both very important ones,” she said. “If the measure fails, the strong restrictions that we already have on abortion will remain in place, the ones that have been passed that have been challenged in court and overturned will still be overturned, and everything will be the way it is right now.”

Legal questions

The two main coalitions working on Measure 1 – proponents ND Choose Life and opponents North Dakotans Against Measure 1 – released papers in recent weeks signed by experts, advocates and others taking on the legal questions about what the measure would do if approved by voters.

Christopher Dodson, executive director and general counsel for the North Dakota Catholic Conference and a member of ND Choose Life, said it would clarify that the right to life clause already in the state’s constitution applies to all stages of development, allowing the Legislature to pass laws to “protect human life” to the extent possible under the U.S. Constitution.

There are many reasons voters shouldn’t be concerned about Measure 1 affecting end-of-life decisions, Dodson said, including it’s a constitutional amendment, not a statute, and such amendments are “rarely” considered self-executing by the state Supreme Court.

“That is, they cannot create new crimes or new statutes to be enforced, and they can’t mandate the Legislature to do something, nor can they repeal by implication an existing statute unless there’s a direct conflict which cannot be resolved,” he said. “This doesn’t meet those criteria.”

It’s instead considered to set “general objectives,” similar to an amendment in 2000 protecting the right to hunt, he said, and would allow existing statutes governing end-of-life care, infertility treatment and abortion to continue to be the law of the land.

Concerns about its impact on access to infertility treatment or abortion are unwarranted, Dodson said, because the amendment would need to define life as beginning at conception to be enforceable on those issues – something he said it doesn’t do.

“It can’t ban abortion because of the federal rules anyway, so abortion is not the issue,” he said. “The issue of Measure 1 are those laws that affect abortion, such as parental consent, waiting periods and things that the U.S. Supreme Court has said are constitutional.”

But Steven Morrison, an assistant professor of constitutional law at the University of North Dakota’s School of Law who researched the issues for a report released by North Dakotans Against Measure 1, said it’s an “abject failure” of writing the original intent into legislation.

“I perfectly understand that they have a moral position and that protecting life is important to them, and indeed it’s important to me as well,” he said. “What they don’t understand is you have to translate that interest in protecting life into legal language which can be measured and fair and won’t harm people, and Measure 1 is anything but nuanced.”

Morrison said the “vague” language will affect far more than abortion restrictions. Unlike most amendments that specify what the government cannot do, such as enter a home without a warrant, Measure 1 would set a positive constitutional right, he said – meaning it requires the government to do something.

In this case, he said that requirement is to protect the right to life, which could open the door to the government needing to ensure residents’ access to things like clean air and water and treatment for cancer and other diseases. No other state constitution imposes this “positive duty” to protect life, he said.

“Measure 1 has the potential for altering that relationship between the government and citizens, and requiring the government to do a whole lot to protect people’s right to life,” he said.

He said it’s also arguable Measure 1 actually is self-executing and could override current laws without additional legislation because it doesn’t contain “as provided by law” language making it clear it’s in the realm of legislators.

Either way, he said it doesn’t matter what proponents intend for Measure 1 to do because the interpretation would ultimately be up to potential court action and rulings.

“We readily admit that this is up in the air,” Morrison said. “I’m busy saying the measure could do this, the measure could do that, here’s my legal analysis why, and that’s the fundamental problem with the measure. The proponents are simply saying it won’t have any bad effect, period.”

The three physicians now offering IVF in North Dakota, who all practice at the Sanford Reproductive Medicine Clinic in Fargo, have said Measure 1 would make it “impossible” to continue offering the treatment here.

Several national reproductive health organizations have released statements opposing Measure 1 because of these concerns, while the North Dakota Medical Association told its members Oct. 8 that it is against the amendment because of its “unknown effects on the patient-physician relationship.”

Roe v. Wade challenge?

Measure 1 has earned national attention since legislators approved the resolution last year because it would be the first of its kind if approved.

North Dakotans Against Measure 1 reported more than $1.4 million of contributions as of Friday. The vast majority, $1.3 million, came from Planned Parenthood groups across the country, including nearly $750,000 from the organization’s action fund for Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Planned Parenthood doesn’t operate a clinic in North Dakota.

ND Choose Life, meanwhile, reported more than $825,000 in contributions as of Friday, with the biggest contribution of $286,000 from the North Dakota Catholic Conference.

Janne Myrdal, chairwoman of ND Choose Life, said the opposition’s finances show Planned Parenthood is afraid of North Dakota becoming a “leader” on abortion restrictions following Planned Parenthood v. Casey, a 1992 Supreme Court decision that upheld Roe v. Wade but also allowed states to regulate abortions to protect the mother’s health and life of the fetus.

More than 200 regulations or restrictions have been passed in the states since then, something she said has made Planned Parenthood “scared” of what Measure 1 might mean in the future.

“They’re concerned about other states taking up that mandate from the Supreme Court and saying, ‘Ok, we are going to limit this, we are going to regulate and we are going to protect our women and children,’ ” she said, adding it’s “not just North Dakota” they’re worried about.

But Dina Butcher, chairwoman for North Dakotans Against Measure 1, said Planned Parenthood’s investment instead shows concern about what could become the nation’s first personhood amendment.

“When you talk about personhood, the whole country is looking at this because if it passes in North Dakota, it will cost the taxpayers huge amounts of money to take it all the way to the Supreme Court,” she said. “It’s a foothold, and they’re trying to get a foothold in one state that they can leverage into the whole Roe v. Wade repeal.”

Sitte said Measure 1 is a human life amendment, not a personhood amendment that would instead explicitly define life as beginning at conception.

Still, Personhood USA, the Colorado-based group pushing for such amendments, testified in favor of the resolution during the 2013 legislative session, and refers to it as the first personhood amendment approved by a legislative body on its website.

Previous personhood amendments were defeated by voters in Mississippi and Colorado in recent years, and a new amendment will be on the Colorado ballot this November.

Measure 1 wouldn’t ban abortion entirely on its own, Sitte said. But during testimony on Jan. 29, 2013, before the resolution putting it on the ballot was approved, she told lawmakers the measure was meant to take on the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that found the 14th Amendment’s right to privacy under the due process clause included a woman’s decision to have an abortion.

“This amendment is intended to present a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade,” she said during that 2013 testimony, a statement she told The Forum on Thursday she no longer supports.

“That was probably a misstatement,” she said. “I don’t think that’s going to happen. I don’t see it that way anymore. But it’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out. I don’t know if anybody really knows specifically. All I do know is it is a broad guarantee of the inalienable right to life that goes to the North Dakota Constitution.”

Poll: Most are for Measure 8: 60 percent of respondents want school to begin after Labor Day

By Jennifer Johnson

Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Even as opposition picks up against a later start date for schools, a new poll suggests Measure 8 will pass without a hitch.

The poll, commissioned by Forum Communications Co. and conducted by the University of North Dakota College of Business and Public Administration, found 60 percent of respondents planned to vote in favor of Measure 8. Less than one-third, or 26 percent, said they would vote “no,” and 14 percent were undecided.

If the measure is approved, all public school classes in the state would begin after Labor Day. Supporters initiated the measure to prevent students from sitting in hot classrooms at the end of summer, which has caused districts to cancel school.

The new poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent, with 95 percent confidence, and is based on landline and cellphone interviews of 505 randomly selected North Dakotans 18 and older who said they were likely to vote. The surveys were conducted between Sept. 26 and Oct. 3.

 

More favor the measure

Poll results show Measure 8 is one of the most clearly decided among all measures on the ballot this year.

Regardless of age, education, party, gender or region, poll results show more voters in support of the measure than against. Even with a greater margin of error among subgroups, voters can still get an indication of the direction it will take, said Robert Wood, an associate professor of political science at UND who helped conduct the poll.

Of all the measures, this one also has the lowest percentage of undecided voters, according to poll results.

“It’s rare for me to see it this one-sided,” he said. “If there was any demographic group against the measure, it’s not showing up in the data. From what we can see, it looks like this measure is leading and is likely to pass, absent any kind of major changes.”

Currently, individual districts decide when to start the school year. School districts in Grand Forks and Bismarck are among those in the state that have approved a later start date.

Opponents say the measure means a loss of local control and could push the school year to mid-June. Sports activities could be disrupted, leaving athletes less time to prepare for games, and student participation might decrease, they’ve said.

Supporters say the measure has “nothing to do with sports” and focuses only on the start date of school, according to the Start ND School After Labor Day website.

An even split on pharmacy law Measure 7: supported in West, opposed in East, poll finds

By Dave Olson

Forum News Service

FARGO – North Dakotans are almost evenly divided on whether to do away with a state law that restricts who can operate pharmacies, a poll shows.

Thirty-nine percent oppose Measure 7, while 35 percent support the measure that will be on the Nov. 4 ballot, according to a poll commissioned by Forum Communications Co. and conducted by the University of North Dakota College of Business and Public Administration.

The poll found 26 percent of voters undecided.

If passed, Measure 7 would overturn a North Dakota law that requires any pharmacy operating in the state to be owned at least 51 percent by a pharmacist, or pharmacist group, licensed in the state. The law has been on the books since the early 1960s.

The poll taken from Sept. 26 to Oct. 3 asked a random sampling of adults 18 and older via landline or cellphone whether they supported the measure.

The poll has a margin of error of 5 percent.

Robert Wood, an associate political science professor at UND who helped conduct the poll, said based on the poll’s margin of error, Measure 7 is a “a too-close-to-call thing. A lot of it will depend on the characteristics of the undecideds.”

Those still on fence

Wood said the poll found that among voters who said they will vote “yes” for Measure 7, more than half – 52 percent – identified themselves as Republican.

Wood said given that about 37 percent of the undecided voters identified themselves as Republican, that might bode well for measure backers.

“There’s a bigger chunk of Republicans among the undecideds than there is of Democrats or independents,” Wood said, adding that the 37 percent of undecided Republicans plus the 21 percent of undecided voters who didn’t disclose a political affiliation make up more than half the undecided bloc.

“If you can predict which way they’ll go, that might give you some insight,” Wood said.

Among all those polled, 38 percent self-identified as a Republican, 19 percent as a Democrat, 27 percent as an independent, 4 percent as a Libertarian and 13 percent were undecided on their party affiliation or declined to say.

Here are some additional details about the poll:

– About 67 percent of the undecideds are female.

– About 45 percent in the undecided bloc are ages 46 to 65, which Wood said is a bigger percentage “than you would expect.”

– Among all in the 46-65 age group, 36 percent indicated they will vote “yes” on Measure 7 and 35 percent said they will vote “no.”

The initiated measure required the signatures of 13,452 qualified voters to appear on the ballot.

Organizers submitted more than 24,000 signatures, of which 22,758 were deemed acceptable by the North Dakota Secretary of State’s Office.

North Dakotans for Lower Pharmacy Prices, a coalition of businesses, health care professionals and state residents in support of the initiative, is pushing for the measure, arguing that existing law limits pharmacy options and leads to higher prescription drug prices.

The North Dakota Pharmacists Association, the leading critic of the initiated measure, maintains that changing the law would eliminate many independent pharmacies in the state and lead to higher prescription drug prices because large retailers like Wal-Mart and Walgreens would muscle out smaller businesses.

A similar ballot initiative was proposed in 2009, but a judge threw out the attempt because names and addresses of sponsoring committee members were not circulated alongside signature petitions.

A subsequent attempt to get the question on the ballot in 2012 also failed.

An attempt by state legislators in 2011 to amend the pharmacy ownership law was defeated in the state House.

East/west division

The new poll found that North Dakota voters are divided geographically on Measure 7, with 41 percent in western North Dakota supporting the measure and 35 percent opposing it.

The picture was flipped in the eastern part of the state, where 42 percent of voters indicated they oppose the measure and 31 percent said they favor it.

Twenty-seven percent of voters in the eastern part of the state indicated they are undecided, while 24 percent of voters in western North Dakota are undecided.

Voter preference also differs by age, with the poll showing 50 percent of voters 18 to 30 years old oppose Measure 7, while 30 percent in that age bracket favor changing North Dakota’s law on pharmacy ownership.

Twenty percent of voters ages 18 to 30 are undecided.

In the 31 to 45 age bracket, the poll found 42 percent favor the measure and 35 percent oppose it. Twenty-three percent are undecided.

In the 46 to 65 age group, voters are almost evenly divided, with 36 percent in favor of the measure and 35 percent opposed to it. Twenty-nine percent are undecided.

For voters 66 and older, 40 percent oppose the measure and 31 percent favor it. Twenty-nine percent are undecided.

Margins of errors for demographic breakdowns are higher than plus or minus 5 percent, due to the smaller sample sizes.

Poll methodology

The results of this poll are based on telephone interviews of 505 randomly selected adults ages 18 and older who live in North Dakota and are likely to vote Nov. 4. Polling was conducted from Sept. 26 through Oct. 3. In order to provide a probability-based representative sample, both landline and cellular telephone numbers were included. The sample yields a 95 percent confidence level of a plus or minus 5 percent margin of error.

Source: UND College of Business and Public Administration

Measure 6 supporters claim lead for now: A quarter of respondents still undecided on shared parenting measure

By Brandi Jewett

Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — North Dakota’s Measure 6 may have support from a majority of potential voters, but a significant number are still undecided, according to a new poll.

Forty-four percent of respondents indicted they were in favor of the measure, which would create a legal presumption that each parent is fit and entitled to equal parental rights.

Another 30 percent responded they would be voting against the measure, according to a poll commissioned by Forum Communications Co. and conducted by the University of North Dakota College of Business Administration and Public Affairs.

The remaining 26 percent of respondents said they were undecided.

The new poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent and was conducted between Sept. 26 and Oct. 3 by interviewing 505 randomly selected North Dakotans by landline or cellphone. The respondents were 18 and older and said they were likely to vote.

Measure proponents say the changes to state law would allow more kids to have both parents in their lives after a divorce while opponents argue it puts parents’ needs before those of their children.

A lack of division

Robert Wood, an associate political science professor at UND who helped conduct the poll, said the divide between supporter and opponents didn’t fall where some may have expected.

“You would think there was going to be a split,” he said. “You would think that, the way this has been portrayed by both sides, that fathers, or men, are perceived as feeling that they’ve been slighted in the current process.”

To the contrary, the poll shows no gender divide over the measure with broad support across demographic groups.

Men and women are split nearly even on the issues with 43 percent of men and 45 percent of women responding they were in favor of the measure.

Another 31 percent of men and 29 percent of women planned to vote no on the measure. Data shows 26 percent of both genders responded as being undecided.

The trends also are consistent across age groups, location and political parties, according to Wood.

“There’s not any real spike to indicate this particular demographic group is opposed to this or even particular demographic group is undecided,” he said.

Breakouts

Breakouts of poll data indicate there is broad support for the measure among most groups.

Splitting up the state, respondents in the eastern half were 45 percent for the measure, 31 percent against and 24 percent undecided. In the west, 43 percent supported the measure, 28 percent were against it and 30 percent were undecided.

Going by age, those 18 to 30 were the most decided of the four groups polled with only 9 percent unsure of how they would vote. They also were the only age group not favoring the measure with 46 percent saying they’d vote against it.

In the 31 to 45 year old range, 47 percent said they would vote for the measure compared to 46 percent of 46 to 65 year olds and 37 percent of those 65 and older. The 65 and older group was the most undecided age bracket at 37 percent.

The most strongly opposed demographic was those with less than a high school diploma at 57 percent with another 28 percent saying they were undecided. Generally, those with at least an associate’s degree or above favored the measure, but respondents with bachelor’s degrees were split on the issue with 38 percent for and 37 percent against.

Respondents across the political spectrum supported the measure, except those identifying as Libertarian, who were split 39 percent in favor and 40 percent against. The measure saw the strongest support from independents at 54 percent.

Favoring the measure were 40 percent of Republicans and 45 percent of Democrats. Those who were considered politically undecided favored it at 36 percent.

Low profile

The proposal seems to have a lower profile when compared to other measures, according to Wood.

“I haven’t seen a lot of mobilized opposition,” he said. “Supporters will go to the polls based on this one issue. But opponents, there doesn’t appear to be the same organized opposition to Measure 6 that there has been to Measure 1 or Measure 5.”

North Dakota Shared Parenting for Kids Initiative, the committee headed by measure proponents, recently began running TV ads sponsored by national organizations and touting endorsements from celebrities such as Kiefer Sutherland of TV show “24” fame.

So far, the committee has raised $4,200, according to campaign contribution reports from the secretary of state office.

Keeping Kids First, a committee organized in opposition of the measure, received $60,000 in campaign contributions from the State Bar Association of North Dakota in late September, according to campaign contribution reports. The group has paid $53,000 to Prairie Airwaves in Fargo, the reports said.

With three weeks left until the election, Wood said the Keeping Kids First and other opponents may be cutting it close if they hope to sway some of the undecided voters.

“At this stage … proponents aren’t going to be persuadable,” he said. “But you’ve got 26 percent that are undecided … they need to persuade that 26 percent.

The poll indicates history may not repeat itself. A similar measure was brought to voters in 2006. The measure, which sought similar equal rights for parents, was defeated with 56 percent of voters choosing no.

Poll methodology

Polls results are based on telephone interviews of 505 randomly selected adults living in North Dakota and likely to vote Nov. 4. Polling was conducted from from Sept. 26 through Oct. 3. In order to provide a probability-based representative sample, both landline and cellular phone numbers were included. The sample yields a 95 percent confidence level of a plus or minus 5 percent margin of error.

Source: UND College of Business and Public Administration

Goehring commands lead in agriculture commissioner race

By Patrick Springer

Forum News Service

FARGO – Republican incumbent Doug Goehring commands a strong lead over Democratic challenger Ryan Taylor in the closely watched North Dakota agriculture commissioner race, a new poll shows.

Still, many voters – 28 percent – remained undecided in a contest that could alter the makeup of the three-member North Dakota Industrial Commission, which plays a key role in regulating oil and gas development.

Goehring drew support from 45 percent of respondents, compared to 27 percent for Taylor, according to a poll commissioned by Forum Communications Co. and conducted by the University of North Dakota College of Business Administration and Public Affairs.

The new poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent, with 95 percent confidence, and is based on landline and cellphone interviews of 505 randomly selected North Dakotans 18 and older who said they were likely to vote. The surveys were conducted between Sept. 26 and Oct. 3.

Goehring’s large lead over Taylor one month before the Nov. 4 election appeared striking, said Robert Wood, an associate professor of political science at UND and poll analyst.

“I thought it would be closer,” he said. “I was expecting that would be the race we would all want to watch.”

Taylor, the Democrats’ unsuccessful 2012 gubernatorial candidate, would have to capture the vast majority of undecided voters in order to unseat Goehring, the poll findings suggest.

“It does seem like a steep hill,” Wood said, who noted that there did not appear to be a big east-west divide in either candidate’s support.

The poll breakdown showed Goehring with “very favorable” or “favorable” impressions among 36 percent of likely voters, with 45 percent answering “don’t know” or “not sure.”

Taylor had “very favorable” or “favorable” impressions from 28 percent of likely voters, while 47 percent answered “don’t know” or “not sure.”

Goehring maintained a strong lead over Taylor across diverse demographic groups of voters.

The Republican’s support was strongest among male voters, who favored Goehring by 47 percent to 27 percent for Taylor. Female voters favored Goehring by 44 percent to 27 percent for Taylor.

Among age groups, Goehring’s strongest support, 59 percent, was with voters 66 years or older. Taylor’s greatest appeal by age group was split among voters 18 to 30 and 46 to 65; his support for both groups was between 29 and 30 percent.

The breakdown of poll respondents according to self-identified party affiliation: Republicans, 38 percent; Democrats, 19 percent; independents, 27 percent; Libertarians, 4 percent; 13 percent declined to say or weren’t sure.

Goehring, who was appointed to the office in 2009 and elected to his first term in 2010, is the only member on this year’s ballot on the influential Industrial Commission, which also includes fellow Republicans Gov. Jack Dalrymple and Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem.

During the campaign, the tension between energy development and impacts on farmers and ranchers has been a major issue – a concern that also has commanded broad public interest, making this year’s race for the agriculture post unusual.

Goehring farms with his son near Menoken in Burleigh County. Taylor is a McHenry County commissioner who formerly served in the North Dakota Senate and ranches near Towner.

Many undecided in tax commissioner race

By David Luessen

Forum News Service

JAMESTOWN, N.D. — With some uncertainty about the incumbent’s campaign, more than two-fifths of North Dakotans are undecided on whom to support in the state tax commissioner race, according to new poll results.

The poll, commissioned by Forum Communications Co. and conducted by the University of North Dakota College of Business and Public Administration, found 41 percent of respondents were undecided between Republican incumbent Ryan Rauschenberger, Democratic challenger Jason Astrup and Libertarian candidate Anthony Mangnall. Rauschenberger led with 34 percent, followed by Astrup at 20 percent and Mangnall at 5 percent.

Gov. Jack Dalrymple appointed Rauschenberger to tax commissioner in November 2013 to replace outgoing Tax Commissioner Cory Fong.

Robert Wood, an associate professor of political science at UND who helped conduct the poll, said normally a Republican incumbent would be a shoo-in for the low-profile tax commissioner’s race.

“There are more undecided than were present in the other races because it’s related directly to the personal challenges of the incumbent — of Rauschenberger — that his personal struggles, personal challenges and personal life have pushed a lot of people that would have normally been solidly in the Republican camp into the undecideds,” Wood said. “… If it was the challenger that had had their truck totaled and had run into these problems, it would have just been the end of their campaign.”

Rauschenberger made headlines in early September when his 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe was rolled in Mandan by Jesse Larson, 22, of Mandan. Larson was charged with DUI and reckless driving. Rauschenberger said he met Larson in alcohol treatment. A police report revealed Rauchenberger had rear-ended another vehicle with the Tahoe 6 1/2 hours prior to Larson’s accident with the vehicle; however, the responding officer did not test for drugs or alcohol at the scene as neither appeared to be contributing factors in the accident.

Rauschenberger took an unpaid leave of absence from the tax commissioner’s office to seek additional treatment for alcohol abuse a few days after the accident and returned to his post last week.

“His approach has been really forthright,” Wood said, referring to Rauschenberger’s public acknowledgement of his alcohol abuse. “… that’s the very best way to handle a crisis: Get out in front of it, tell it in your own way, own up to it, take responsibility for it and basically ask the voters for forgiveness.”

Polling was conducted from Sept. 26 through Oct. 3, before Rauschenberger returned to work.

Poll results are based on telephone interviews of 505 randomly selected adults living in North Dakota and likely to vote Nov. 4. In order to provide a probability-based representative sample, the poll included landline and cellular phone numbers. The sample yields a 95 percent confidence level of a plus or minus 5 percent margin of error.

Divided among political affiliation, respondents in the poll were 38 percent Republicans, 27 percent Independents, 19 percent Democrats, 4 percent Libertarians and 13 percent declined to say or were not sure.

Among their own parties, when asked if the election were held today, which candidate they would support, 68 percent of Republicans favored Rauschenberger and 24 percent were undecided. Among Democrats 58 percent favored Astrup and 38 percent were undecided, and 18 percent of Libertarians supported Mangnall and 43 percent were undecided.

Poll: North Dakotans oppose Measure 3

By Anna Burleson

Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — A recent poll shows North Dakotans are against a November ballot measure that would restructure higher education governance.

“The poll, commissioned by Forum Communications Co. and conducted by the University of North Dakota’s College of Business and Public Administration, found 47 percent of respondents planned to vote against Measure 3. Nearly one-third – 32 percent – are undecided while 21 percent are in support of it.

Measure 3, a proposed constitutional amendment, would replace the existing eight-member State Board of Higher Education with a paid three-member, full-time commission appointed by several state officials and a representative of an educational interest group.

From Sept. 26 to Oct. 3, the poll asked a random sampling of adults aged 18 or older via landline or cell phone whether they were for, against, or undecided on the measure. The poll has a 5 percent margin of error.

Associate Professor Robert “Bo” Wood assisted in compiling and analyzing the poll results and said in his opinion, the measure won’t pass because of voter attitudes of “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.”

“I would interpret it as people are sort of waiting for the case to be made for why this needs to be done,” he said.

By the numbers

The poll results are weighted to adjust for household size, with an adjustment for the ratio of landlines and cell phones per household, and then again for population distribution, which was taken from the U.S. Census Bureau’s July 2014 Current Population Survey.

Of those polled, about 38 percent were Republican, 26 percent were independent, 19 percent were Democrats, 13 percent were undecided and 4 percent were Libertarian.

Even though the measure was carried to the ballot by a Republican, Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, about 40 percent of the Republicans polled said they would vote against the measure.

But that percentage has a smaller sample size and therefore a higher margin of error, which needs to be “taken with a grain of salt,” Wood said.

The accreditation conundrum

Wood said it’s important to take into account the poll was taken during the time when the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges came out against the measure. A group of about a dozen legislators, civic leaders and citizens formed a group to oppose the measure at that time as well.

“The people are waiting to prove…we need to do this,” Wood said. “A lot of the default setting is, ‘no.’”

He also said a perceived threat to accreditation undoubtedly played a part in the results.

In early September, the Higher Learning Commission issued a report stating the 11 institutions the North Dakota University System oversees could be at risk of losing accreditation if the measure passes.

The report blamed this partly on a short timeline to pass implementing legislation. It also stated the lack of detail in the measure “poses significant risks to the functioning of North Dakota’s system of higher education as a whole and to future reaffirmation of accreditation for its individual institutions.”

Wood said unless more information is released about this potential threat, he thought most of the undecided voters would vote against the measure.

Poll methodology

Polls results are based on telephone interviews of 505 randomly selected adults living in North Dakota and likely to vote Nov. 4. Polling was conducted from from Sept. 26 through Oct. 3. In order to provide a probability-based representative sample, both landline and cellular phone numbers were included. The sample yields a 95 percent confidence level of a plus or minus 5 percent margin of error.

Source: UND College of Business and Public Administration

Poll shows ‘right to life’ measure set to pass: Half of likely voters support ‘inalienable’ rights at every stage of development

By Ryan Johnson

Forum News Service

FARGO — A ballot measure amending the North Dakota Constitution to recognize “the inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development” is likely to pass next month, according to new poll results.

The poll, commissioned by Forum Communications Co. and conducted by the University of North Dakota College of Business and Public Administration, found 50 percent of respondents planned to vote in favor of Measure 1. One-third, or 33 percent, said they would vote “no,” and 17 percent were undecided.

If approved, it would add to the state’s constitution: “The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of human development must be recognized and protected.” The measure was put on the ballot after legislators approved a resolution last year during a session that saw the passage of several abortion restrictions.

The new poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent, with 95 percent confidence, and is based on landline and cellphone interviews of 505 randomly selected North Dakotans 18 and older who said they were likely to vote. The surveys were conducted between Sept. 26 and Oct. 3.

Robert Wood, an associate professor of political science at UND who helped conduct the poll, said Measure 1 looks on track to pass based on these findings. While 17 percent were undecided, he said all would need to break toward voting “no” to defeat the measure – an unlikely scenario.

“By and large, there are not that many undecideds on this particular measure,” he said.

More than half, or 53 percent, of respondents in the eastern half of the state said they would vote “yes,” 31 percent “no” and 15 percent weren’t sure. In the western half, 46 percent would vote “yes,” 35 percent “no” and 19 percent hadn’t decided.

Measure 1 has more support among men (55 percent) than women (45 percent). Women also were more likely to be undecided (20 percent) than men (14 percent).

The margin of error for results broken down by gender, geography and other demographics is higher than for the overall sample, said Brian Urlacher, an associate professor at political science and public administration at UND who also worked on the poll.

When grouped by age, respondents 18 to 30 were most likely to vote in favor of the measure at 62 percent, compared to 52 percent of those 31 to 45, 43 percent of those 46 to 65 and 51 percent of those 66 or older. More than a quarter, or 28 percent, of 46- to 65-year-olds were undecided, the most of any age range.

Stronger support among the younger respondents could be a sign that younger people are more anti-abortion or supportive of the expansion of government in general, Wood speculated.

Urlacher said lower support among the 31 to 45 demographic could be caused by people of that age being more likely to be concerned about any potential impact to infertility treatment.

A group of Fargo physicians who offer in vitro fertilization recently warned they’d have to stop the treatment if Measure 1 is approved, an interpretation the measure’s supporters say isn’t true.

Opponents also have raised concerns about the measure’s impact on end-of-life decisions that could weigh more heavily on the minds of older respondents.

“I think the thorny issues that make people who are sympathetic to the pro-life argument pause are not the things that show up on the radars of 18- to 30-year-olds is how I would read that,” Urlacher said.

Generally, the percentage of respondents planning to vote “yes” decreased as their education level increased, starting with 89 percent of those with a high school education or less and ending with 40 percent of those with a master’s degree or higher.

Poll methodology

Polls results are based on telephone interviews of 505 randomly selected adults living in North Dakota and likely to vote Nov. 4. Polling was conducted from from Sept. 26 through Oct. 3. In order to provide a probability-based representative sample, both landline and cellular phone numbers were included. The sample yields a 95 percent confidence level of a plus or minus 5 percent margin of error.

Source: UND College of Business and Public Administration

North Dakota measure briefs

Physicians at Fargo clinic say Measure 1 would make infertility treatment ‘impossible’

FARGO – North Dakota’s only clinic offering in vitro fertilization will have to stop the infertility treatment if voters approve an amendment next month. The three doctors who offer IVF at the Sanford Reproductive Medicine Clinic held a news conference Monday opposing Measure 1.

Approved by the Legislature last spring and set to appear on the Nov. 4 ballot, the measure would add to the constitution: “The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.”

The North Dakota Medical Association released a statement saying it would not side with either coalition opposing or supporting the amendment. But it opposed the legislation in 2013, and said it still has those same concerns now about the “imprecise wording” that could cause “unintended consequences.”

IVF is often the only successful option for infertility patients, Dahl said, especially those diagnosed with male-factor infertility. The treatment, which involves surgically removing eggs from the ovaries and combining them with sperm in a lab, sometimes results in abnormal eggs that can put the mother at risk.

“However, under Measure 1 these abnormally fertilized eggs must be protected, even if they have no chance of growing into a healthy baby and will result in miscarriage,” she said.

The Sanford Reproductive Medicine Clinic serves patients from throughout North Dakota and portions of Minnesota, Dahl said. If it closes, the nearest centers for IVF treatment would be in Minneapolis and Sioux Falls, S.D., and those in western North Dakota might have to go to Colorado or Montana.

Taylor tries to separate himself from Goehring in ND Measure 5 opposition

BISMARCK – Candidates for North Dakota agriculture commissioner took stances Monday against a conservation fund on the Nov. 4 ballot, but Democrat Ryan Taylor tried to distinguish himself as the candidate who could reunite the farm and conservation communities once the dust settles.

During a debate organized by several farm groups and the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, incumbent Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring said he has “a lot of deep concerns” about Measure 5.

If voters approve the constitutional amendment, the fund would collect an estimated $150 million annually in oil extraction tax revenue that could otherwise go toward property tax relief, schools and roads, Goehring said.

The Republican advocated boosting funding instead to the state’s Outdoor Heritage Fund, which is capped at $30 million for the current biennium. As one of three members of the state Industrial Commission, the agriculture commissioner votes on grants from the fund.

Taylor said he also opposes the measure as a constitutional issue. But he also told the audience of more than 100 people at the North Dakota Heritage Center and those listening on Prairie Public radio that he was “not here to kick the conservation folks in the shins on this issue.”

The cattle rancher and former state senator said he’s the candidate who could bring the agriculture and conservation camps together regardless of how the vote goes on the measure.

More than $5 million pumped into battle over ND conservation fund measure

BISMARCK – Supporters and opponents of a proposed conservation fund on the Nov. 4 ballot have pumped more than $5 million into the election, campaign finance records show, and each side is criticizing the other’s support from out-of-state donors.

Friday was the deadline for filing pre-general election statements with the secretary of state’s office, providing a snapshot of how much has been spent on efforts to pass or defeat Measure 5.

The constitutional amendment – perhaps the most hotly contested of the eight measures on the statewide ballot – would establish a conservation fund and trust using 5 percent of the state’s share of oil extraction tax revenue over the next 25 years. The state budget office estimates that if approved, the fund and trust would collect an estimated $308 million in the 2½ years, starting Jan. 1.

Campaign statements show supporters have dumped at least $2.85 million into getting the measure passed, while opponents have put at least $2.19 million toward defeating it.

Steve Adair, chairman of the pro-measure campaign and regional operations director for Ducks Unlimited – the single largest spender on either side at more than $1.87 million – said proponents didn’t expect to be outspent by opponents until the American Petroleum Institute stepped in last month with more than $1.1 million to try to crush the measure.

“We expect them to outspend us now with that group joining the opposition,” he said.