Group forms to oppose Measure 3: Members say measure threatens University System accreditation

By Anna Burleson

Forum News Service

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Concerned legislators, citizens and civic leaders have come together and formed a group aiming to defeat a proposed constitutional amendment that would restructure the North Dakota State Board of Higher Education.

The 11 members of the Citizens for Higher Education plan to work through the media to inform the public that the 11 institutions overseen by the SBHE are in danger of losing accreditation if voters pass Measure 3 in November.

The measure seeks to disband the current board and replace it with an appointed three-person commission. Opponents worry the new structure could prompt a national agency to pull the North Dakota University System’s accreditation.

“There isn’t any question that the Higher Learning Commission has a process and procedure that will be triggered in the unfortunate event that this measure passes and no proponent can predict with any certainty the outcome of that process,” group member and Dickinson attorney Paul Ebeltoft said.

The HLC, an accreditation agency for post-secondary educational institutions, issued a report in September stating it “challenges the imagination to envision how the proposed commission structure will provide commission members the autonomy to lead University System institutions with the welfare of each institution’s students, faculty, staff and the communities that each serve, as the foremost consideration in the judgments that they would be called upon to make.”

SBHE Chairwoman Kirsten Diederich said it’s important to keep student success in mind.

“I appreciate North Dakotans really thinking through what the repercussions could be if this passes,” she said.

Ebeltoft said Measure 3 poses a threat to autonomy and changing the way some institutions are specifically named in the current state constitution also threatens the well-being of the state and the students who live here.

“The proponents would like us to all believe this isn’t much of a deal, we’re going to get rid of all the upset we’ve had with the SBHE over time, and we will join hands and walking to a beautiful rosy sunset of this three-member commission and everything will be fine, Ebeltoft said. “But if it really isn’t much of a change and it really isn’t a big deal, I think every voter should ask, why take any risk?”

On the Web: More information about the group can be found at

N.D. Democrats seek to block Odney’s request for college student contact info: Company president Finken calls attack ‘almost silly,’ says such requests are common

By Mike Nowatzki

Forum News Service

BISMARCK – North Dakota Democrats asked Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem on Thursday to block a Republican-friendly ad agency from obtaining contact information for some 48,000 students at the state’s public colleges and universities.

Odney Advertising president Pat Finken emailed the North Dakota University System on Sept. 6 requesting the names, addresses, email addresses and phone numbers for all students attending the system’s 11 institutions.

Democratic-NPL Party Chairman Bob Valeu, who provided copies of the email at a press conference Thursday in Bismarck, called the request “absolutely inappropriate.” He said the party sent a letter to Stenehjem asking him to issue a cease-and-desist order prohibiting Odney from accessing the information.

Bismarck-based Odney is a political consultant to the state Republican Party and a number of GOP candidates, Valeu noted.

“The overriding issue is that our students while in college should not have their personal information exposed for marketing or political purposes,” he said.

“This is getting ridiculous,” Finken retorted in a phone interview. “I mean, it’s almost silly. The reality is that we have not requested any confidential information.”

Stenehjem, a Republican running for re-election in November, responded to Valeu in a letter Thursday saying he had reminded the University System’s legal counsel “to treat the request as it would any other request.”

“I understand that NDUS regularly receives requests for this type of information, and to the extent they are public records, they are routinely provided,” Stenehjem wrote. “I also understand that students are offered a meaningful opportunity to opt out of the practice of releasing directory records.”

The State Board of Higher Education requires each campus to adopt a policy as required by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. The policy must define directory information that may be released publicly, which includes the student’s name, address, email address, phone number and date of birth.

Students can restrict which information is public, either by contacting the appropriate campus office or through their student account.

Finken said advertising and marketing agencies routinely request such information from colleges and universities.

“We have a number of clients that are interested in marketing to college students, including some political campaigns,” he said.

As of Thursday, only one institution had responded to Odney’s request so far – Williston State College, which provided students’ names and email addresses, Finken said.

House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, said during a GOP luncheon Sept. 9 in Bismarck that the state’s college campuses “are going to be a battleground for us” in the November election, not only because of Measure 3 – the ballot measure that proposes replacing the Board of Higher Education with a three-member commission – but also because Democratic U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp has made big inroads at the campuses.

Valeu said even though the student information may be public record under existing law, Democrats believe another section of state law gives Stenehjem the latitude to put the Odney’s request on hold until the Legislature can take up the issue.

Finken said North Dakota has prospered under Republican leadership and Democrats are trying to create distractions from the issues “because they know they can’t win on those.”

Last week, Democrats called for an audit of the state’s contracts with Odney, after reports that the firm emailed “suggested talking points” for state officials to use when responding to questions about Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger’s leave of absence for alcohol treatment.

Odney’s contracts with various state agencies – the Tax Department not among them – amount to more than $23 million since 2008. Finken said 85 percent of the money the state spends with Odney is pass-through money for media buys.

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at

On the web: Read the North Dakota University System’s policy on student records:

Incumbent ND secretary of state, challenger clash over voter ID law

By Adrian Glass-Moore

FARGO – Secretary of State Al Jaeger defended himself against criticism from his Democratic challenger over the state’s voter ID law in a debate here on Tuesday.

Democratic-NPL candidate April Fairfield criticized as unnecessary and harmful the voter ID law passed by the Legislature in 2013 to address possible voter fraud.

“There was really no way of really verifying whether they were qualified voters,” said Jaeger, a Republican, who oversees state-wide elections and worked with the Legislature on the law. “Just the perception that there could be something wrong really was a concern.”

Fairfield seized on the word “perception” to drive home the argument that the law is a solution to a nonexistent problem.

“Having a problem of perception is really absolutely no good reason to go about and possibly disenfranchise voters,” she said, echoing concerns raised by the American Civil Liberties Union and a Fargo-based nonprofit in July that the law makes it harder for Native American, disabled and other residents to vote.

The law requires one of five forms of identification to vote: a North Dakota driver’s license, a nondriver’s ID, a tribal-issued ID, a student ID and a long-term care ID.

Jaeger argued that people “need identification for virtually everything in this country” and that voting should be no different.

But Fairfield said voting is a special case.

“You do need an ID to get on an airplane,” and in other situations, she said, “but those are not fundamental rights, and voting is.”

Prairie Public and AARP sponsored and recorded the roughly 30-minute debate between Jaeger, Fairfield and Libertarian candidate Roland Riemers, who advocated outsourcing some secretary of state office duties to private companies.

Jaeger and Fairfield also sparred over the office’s drive to become more technologically savvy.

“There have just been a number of issues with the technology project,” Fairfield said. “What we really have to do first and foremost is get a comprehensive audit of this project.”

Jaeger attributed the project’s issues to insufficient funding and having “a very complex office.”

“It’s easy to point fingers at me,” he said. “There’s a lot of other people we rely on with this project.”

The two found common ground on the need for hiring more staff to keep up with the office’s growing workload. Jaeger said he had to close his office for three days so he could take care of backlogged work.

But Fairfield argued that if the technology project had been successful already, “perhaps the work would be getting done in a timely manner.”

The election is Nov. 4.

PSC candidates focus on pipeline safety, EPA coal rules

By Tu-Uyen Tran

FARGO – Todd Reisenauer, a Democrat running for state Public Service commissioner, took aim at the all-Republican PSC and all-Republican Industrial Commission when he complained during a debate Tuesday about the bureaucracy overseeing oil and gas pipelines in the state.

Besides those agencies, three others regulate pipelines creating inefficiencies and confusion, he said.

His big proposal is to have the PSC be a one-stop shop. “It’s going to cause a lot less anxiety, a lot less of the disputes that we’re seeing of landowners not knowing who to go to, who’s responsible for it.”

Brian Kalk, the Republican incumbent, said the current system makes sense and it works. The Industrial Commission issues permits for oil extraction so it should oversee “gathering lines,” which pipe oil from wells. The PSC oversees lines used in intrastate oil transport, he said.

Other than the few clear disagreements such as this one, Kalk and Reisenauer largely saw eye-to-eye in their debate, recorded Tuesday at Prairie Public’s studio here and to be aired next month.

It was a lot like the Monday debate between Republican PSC member Julie Fedorchak and Democratic challenger Tyler Axness, which was also largely agreeable. Both debates were sponsored by AARP and Prairie Public.

Reisenauer, a Fargo business consultant running in his first political race, is seeking a six-year term on the PSC, which regulates much of North Dakota’s energy infrastructure.

Kalk, a retired Marine and former North Dakota State University instructor, is seeking a second term.

The two agreed the federal government isn’t doing enough to inspect oil pipelines and the state should step up with its own inspectors.

And they agreed that the U.S Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to curb carbon emissions isn’t right for the state’s coal power plants.

If it comes down to it, Kalk said the PSC may block rate hikes if they’re meant to fund investments to meet federal regulations.

Reisenauer said he and Kalk are close on this issue. “A one-size-fits-all energy strategy from Washington, D.C., will not work in North Dakota.”

The two also agreed the state should pursue an all-of-the-above energy strategy.

Reisenauer said the state needs a plan to further develop renewable energy sources, such as wind.

Kalk said he prefers to let industry take the lead, and he opposes strategies like Minnesota’s solar mandate, which he warns forces investment in facilities without much regard to the cost to consumers.

Listening to debate

To hear Public Service Commissioner Brian Kalk and challenger Todd Reisenauer debate:

  • Tune in to Prairie Public radio at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 15.
  • Watch public TV at 8:30 p.m. Oct. 17.
  • Go to the broadcaster’s website at The website also lists TV and radio frequencies.

Election Briefs: September 17

Backers of conservation amendment announce broad coalition of support

FARGO – Backers of the Clean Water, Wildlife & Parks Amendment announced Tuesday that a broad coalition of 225 individuals, businesses and organizations have endorsed Measure 5 on the November ballot.

“That’s a broad range of North Dakotans, teachers, agricultural producers, business owners and others,” said Steve Adair, chairman of the campaign for the conservation amendment.

“It’s really grown into a broad, grass-roots effort across the state,” said Adair, an executive with Ducks Unlimited in Bismarck.

Measure 5 backers appeared Tuesday in Fargo and Grand Forks to highlight what they called a broad base of support for the measure, which calls for setting aside 5 percent of oil and gas extraction revenues for conservation and outdoor recreation.

“It’s a very bold approach to a very serious problem we’re facing in this state,” said Buel Sonderland, a Fargo supporter who noted the steep loss of conservation acres, resulting in a significant loss of grassland habitat. “That’s what’s so important about this measure.”

Sonderland, a member of the Cass County Wildlife Club, which supports Measure 5, was joined by Jennifer Kirkeby, a mother of three and owner of Flex Nutrition in Fargo, in a meeting with the editorial board of the The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.

“We personally use all of the outdoor areas,” said Kirkeby, a runner and bicyclist, referring to parks and recreation trails.

Opponents of the conservation measure have sought to paint the proposal as being overwhelmingly backed by out-of-state environmental groups or financial interests.

“We think that’s an unfair characterization of those dollars,” Adair said.

Many groups backing Measure 5, including Ducks Unlimited, have thousands of members and a strong presence in North Dakota, he said.

Ducks Unlimited has between 6,000 and 7,000 North Dakota members, has been active in the state for 50 years, and has had an office in the state for 30 years, Adair said.

If passed by voters, the fund would have a grant program administered by a citizen advisory board and overseen by the governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner.


Health providers join to support Measure 7 group

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — Health care providers have put their support behind Measure 7, which would allow major retailers in North Dakota to operate pharmacies with licensed pharmacists.

Through the statewide Health Policy Consortium  Altru Health System in Grand Forks, Sanford Health of Fargo and Bismarck and Trinity Health in Minot, joined North Dakotans for Lower Pharmacy Prices in supporting the measure.

Voters in November will decide on Measure 7, which repeals a state law requiring that licensed pharmacists have a majority ownership of individual pharmacies in North Dakota.

According to a press release from North Dakotans for Lower Pharmacy Prices, a Kaiser Family Foundation study found that North Dakotans are paying more for prescription medications than people in neighboring states such as Minnesota, where pharmacies can be found in stores grocery stores and other general retailers.


Agriculture commissioner candidate proposes fixed 1% interest rate for student loans

Ryan Taylor

By Grace Lyden

FARGO – North Dakota agriculture commissioner candidate Ryan Taylor proposed a fixed 1 percent interest rate for student loans at a news conference Thursday.

Under the current program, students have the option of a fixed rate of 5.29 percent or a variable rate of 1.73 percent a year.

Taylor estimates that changing the Bank of North Dakota program to a fixed 1 percent would save graduates $6 million over the first 10 years.

Taylor emphasized that North Dakota should be investing not only in “hard assets,” but also in “intellectual infrastructure.”

Reducing student loan interest, he said, would draw students to trade schools and colleges, and that would mean more workers for North Dakota.

There are two ways the proposal could be passed if Taylor is elected:

As the agriculture commissioner is one of three sitting members on the state industrial commission, he could first propose the change there, he said.

The proposal could also be pursued in the Legislature, and Taylor said that would have to be the case if the Bank wanted statutory authority.

Group launches official campaign against N.D. Measure 1

By Josh Francis

Forum News Service

FARGO – Organizers of a group opposed to a state ballot measure in November that they say would ban abortions and could put restrictions on doctors providing end of life care launched their official campaign on Tuesday.

North Dakotans Against Measure One set up shop in a downtown Fargo office and began calling voters and organizing their effort to defeat the measure they say is a direct challenge to the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court decision on abortion.

The group says if Measure 1 is approved, it would affect all North Dakotans because of its vague wording.

The proposed constitutional amendment states: “The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.”

Karla Hanson of Fargo, the group’s spokeswoman, said the measure is an attack on personal health care.

Amending the state constitution to ban abortion is the obvious intent of the measure, Hanson said, but there would be other impacts.

“I originally got involved with fighting this legislation because of the potential prevention of infertility treatment,” she said.

Hanson claimed if the measure passes, the few doctors in the state who offer infertility treatments would be forced to end those services because of fear of criminal liability under the new law.

The office was bustling Tuesday as the group of about a dozen volunteers began their effort to defeat the measure.

Molly McLean of Fargo, field manager of the Fargo office, said this isn’t a women’s issue, it’s everyone’s issue.

She said there already have been efforts by opponents of the measure to open dialogue with voters about how Measure 1 would adversely affect personal health care decisions, including end of life care decisions.

Retired Dr. Ted Kleiman, a pediatrician for 39 years, said the measure would hinder doctor-patient relationships and would allow government to become an unwanted third wheel in that relationship.

“This is a disgrace; this kind of measure takes away choice … This vaguely worded language in any constitution is hazardous,” Kleiman said.

Hanson said there is support from Republicans and Democrats for their campaign, and their outreach will extend to all demographics in the state.

The measure was put on the ballot by an overwhelming majority vote in the state Legislature, but Hanson said that doesn’t indicate how North Dakotans will vote.

“I think North Dakotans do their own research and make their own decisions and they’ll look at all the consequences of the measure,” Hanson said.

The campaign also has offices in Bismarck and Grand Forks.

Supporters of the measure, ND Choose Life, said they are prepared to fight for passage of the measure.

“We are arming ourselves with the facts,” said Shelle Aberle, ND Choose Life’s communications director.

Her group also touts bipartisan support and says their measure would not ban abortion despite opponents’ claims.

ND Choose Life’s website states that experts in law, health care, bioethics and elder care have released a statement claiming Measure 1 will not affect the ability of North Dakotans or their families to make health care decisions at the end of life.

Valley City tax extension for flood plan also could fund wellness center

By David Luessen

Forum News Service

VALLEY CITY, N.D. — Valley City residents will vote in November on whether to extend an existing half-cent sales tax that would help fund a permanent flood protection plan for the city.

However, the City Commission will decide Aug. 19 whether to add an item to the ballot that would use a portion of the funds to build a $16 million wellness center for the city.

Jennifer Feist, executive director of the Valley Development Group and director of development for the Valley City-Barnes County Development Corp., pitched the idea to the commission Tuesday. The VDG proposes using 11 percent of the money generated from the half-cent tax to fund construction of the Valley City Health, Physical Education and Wellness Center, with the other 89 percent going to the flood plan.

Feist said that if the commission decides to tag the center’s construction costs to the tax, the ballot measure would be worded to let people vote for extending the tax to cover both projects, or just flood protection.

“It will be stated on the ballot so it’s very clear, so the public knows exactly what they’re voting on; that rests in the hands of the city,” she said.

City Commissioner Madeline Luke said she expects the vote for flood protection to pass, but wasn’t sure how the wellness center vote would go.

“I think people want flood protection; it’s a negotiation now whether it’s going to be just flood protection or whether the wellness center is going to be a part of that, and I think there’s a difference of opinion on how to proceed,” Luke said. “My thought is that if you want flood protection you vote for flood protection, if you want a wellness center you vote for a wellness center. You don’t do the two together.”

Valley City voters approved the sales tax to fund construction of the Hi-Liner Activity Center at Valley City High School, which opened in 2004. The tax is set to expire June 30, 2023, or when the bond and loan for the building have been paid off, which is expected to happen in late 2017. Feist said the commission may move to rescind the sunset clause.

The move to extend Valley City’s half-cent sales tax stems from the city’s permanent flood protection plan that began its formulation in 2011. That year saw the city’s second-worst flood in history, with the worst flood occurring two years earlier.

The first phase of the plan included buying out 46 riverside properties for the installation of permanent levees. The buyout’s total cost was $4.5 million, with $1.4 million coming directly from the city and the rest from the State Water Commission.

Earlier this year, the SWC awarded the city $12.5 million in an 80-20 percent cost share for the construction of flood walls, with $2.5 million of that being a loan to be repaid by extending the sales tax if voters approve.

The VDG will hold a public information meeting at 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Hi-Liner Activity Center for residents to pose questions on the proposed wellness center. Feist said the center’s focus will be on families and the growing elderly population in Valley City.

“We’ve got limited facilities and that’s not meeting the needs of the population, and our Park and Rec Department, their programs are growing,” she said. “It would be handicapped accessible and it would be user friendly.”

The facility would need to be on VCSU property because of a $1 million grant the VDG is seeking from the North Dakota University System’s Challenge Fund.

To qualify for the grant, the physical education and physical sciences courses at VCSU would be located at the wellness center. Feist said the center also would house cardiac rehab and physical therapy programs, a full gym with a walking track, a swimming pool and hot tub area, as well as a child-watch area for short-term day care needs.

If the wellness center is added to the November ballot and passes, Feist said she expected construction to begin next spring or summer.

Personhood amendment backers respond to end-of-life claims

By Mike Nowatzki

Forum News Service

BISMARCK – Supporters of a North Dakota ballot measure aimed at banning abortion are preparing to distribute a “white paper” to counter what they claim are misleading statements by opponents about the measure’s potential impact on end-of-life health care decisions.

Voters will decide Nov. 4 on the proposed constitutional amendment, which states: “The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.”

A group backing the measure, ND Choose Life, has assembled a four-page document that cites state and federal law and past court decisions in an attempt to refute opponents’ claims that the measure could interfere with end-of-life health decisions and directives.

The paper will be sent to most North Dakota churches and “tens of thousands” of voters in ND Choose Life’s database, spokeswoman Shelle Aberle said.

It was prompted in part by a July 16 opinion letter in the Grand Forks Herald by Steven Morrison, a member of North Dakotans Against Measure 1 and assistant law professor at the University of North Dakota School of Law, as well as other letters to the editor.

Morrison – who said he was speaking individually as an expert in constitutional law – called the personhood amendment a “vaguely worded provision” and warned that it could result in criminal charges against someone who orders a doctor to disconnect life support according to their spouse’s living will.

He also disputes proponents’ claims that the amendment won’t affect existing laws, saying “constitutional provisions render statutes unconstitutional all the time.”

Rodger Wetzel, a retired social worker, former eldercare director at St. Alexius Medical Center in Bismarck and one of 14 people who signed on to the white paper, said opponents are trying “to create doubt without substantive legal background” and that federal and state law “very clearly” recognize a patient’s right to determine their own health care.

Proponents point to a section of state law that says adults have the right to make decisions relating to their own health care, “including the decision to have health care provided, withheld, or withdrawn,” and another section that authorizes health care directives by the patient or someone appointed to make those decisions for the patient.

“One can take one’s personal opinion, or one can say, ‘What does our state and federal law currently state?’ ” Wetzel said.

Morrison said the right to make medical decisions isn’t absolute under the U.S. Constitution, and that he’s not claiming the personhood amendment will or won’t render the state statutes unconstitutional.

“What I’m saying is it could, and it’s going to be up to the courts to determine the scope of the effect of Measure 1,” he said, predicting that, if passed, the amendment will lead to a lot of legal challenges “in many different areas of the law.”

The 2013 Legislature passed a resolution putting the measure on the ballot, with Republicans accounting for all 26 “yes” votes in the Senate and all but three of the 57 “yes” votes in the House.

Others listed on the white paper include attorney and state Sen. David Hogue, R-Minot, Rep. Karen Rohr, R-Mandan, North Dakota Catholic Conference general counsel Christopher Dodson and former Lt. Gov. Rosemarie Myrdal.

Aberle said the white paper will be posted at Morrison’s letter can be found at

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at

Sponsors turn in 16,500 signatures for ballot measure on later school start

By Mike Nowatzki

Forum News Service

BISMARCK – Supporters of changing North Dakota law to force school districts to start classes after Labor Day said they delivered about 16,500 signatures to the secretary of state’s office Wednesday with hopes of putting the question to voters in November.

The measure needs 13,452 valid signatures to get on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Kelly Heinert of Mandan, co-chair of the sponsoring committee, said based on the support received during the signature gathering process, “I feel very confident come November it will pass.”

If voters approve the measure, North Dakota would join Minnesota, Michigan and Virginia as one of a handful of states that require a post-Labor Day start, according to the Minnesota School Boards Association.

Most schools in North Dakota start classes before Labor Day, with the most common starting date this year being Aug. 25, according to Department of Public Instruction spokesman Dale Wetzel. A few schools are starting in September, including Bismarck, which starts Sept. 2, the day after Labor Day.

“So there’s a precedent set,” Heinert said.

The measure is one of three now under review by Secretary of State Al Jaeger. Another five are set for the ballot.

If all eight wind up in voters’ hands come November, it would be the most ballot measures since the June 1996 election, which had nine.

“We’ve had these kind of numbers before,” Jaeger said Wednesday, but “we haven’t had it recently.”

The elections of November 1980, December 1989 and November 1990 each had eight measures, Jaeger said.

Four measures submitted by the state Legislature would, if passed, amend the North Dakota Constitution to reflect the right to life “at every stage of development,” prohibit mortgage taxes, create a three-member commission to govern higher education and forbid ballot measures that allocate funds to specific purposes. An equal number of citizen initiatives may join the ballot.

The high number of ballot measures may mean higher voter turnout, said Stephen Nicholson, an associate professor who studies ballot measures at the University of California, Merced.

North Dakota is a low user of initiatives and other forms of direct democracy compared to states like California, Oregon and Washington, Nicholson said.

He added that ballot initiatives are not necessarily a sign of frustration with government.

“There’s really very little relationship between the willingness to sign a ballot … and satisfaction or dissatisfaction,” Nicholson said.

Supporters of the school measure believe students should be able to enjoy the outdoors and have more of a summer when the weather is nice in late August, he said.

“It’s just a quality of life issue,” he said.

Co-chair Linda Striebel of Bismarck said they’ve also have heard concerns from teachers, especially in rural areas, about the effects of an earlier school start and hot conditions on students in schools with no air conditioning.

“These kids are not learning at the end of August,” she said.

A DPI official has said the department believes districts should be allowed to set their own school calendars. Heinert said districts would still have control of their calendars, only with a later start date. He said a lot of Minnesota districts squeeze in their school year between Labor Day and Memorial Day, though he acknowledged that isn’t possible some years when Labor Day lands later in September.

Heinert said the sponsors are “just a group of parents” and aren’t planning to buy campaign ads to promote the measure, but they will support any outside groups if they decide to do so.

Jaeger has 35 days to determine if the signatures are sufficient to place the measure on the ballot.

Adrian Glass-Moore contributed to this report.