Looking for bigger voice; Libertarian seeks wins eventually, exposure in short term

By Tu-Uyen Tran

Forum News Service

FARGO – Robert “Jack” Seaman, the Libertarian candidate for U.S. House in North Dakota, has trailed in every poll this election season, but he remains defiantly optimistic.

“I think I could win, I really do,” he said Tuesday, a week before Election Day.

In most of the polls, Seaman doesn’t crack 5 percent while the major party candidates, Republican incumbent Kevin Cramer and Democrat state Sen. George Sinner, range in the high 20s to high 40s, with Cramer well ahead.

But polls reflect only people who say they’re likely to vote, which Seaman said leaves out those so disgusted with the two-party system they’d just as soon stay home Election Day.

“I’m trying to engage the disenfranchised voters, the young voters that have never voted before and the people that are fed up with their parties. That’s my demographic,” he said.

The Libertarian Party platform includes a little bit of the GOP and Democratic platforms and goes a lot further than either party in the direction of individual liberty.

Seaman said it’s inherently appealing to his demographic, if only more knew about it and more saw it as a viable choice.

That might be why Libertarian candidates mostly run in high-profile statewide or national races that they seem to have no real chance of winning instead of smaller local races where their odds might be better.

“It’s my personal opinion – I’m not speaking for any party official – but I think people run for the bigger offices because they have the most media exposure,” Seaman said. “Win, lose or draw, I’ve been in this race for over a year now, and I think I’ve put the term Libertarian on people’s radar. And that’s the most important thing to grow the party.”

Viability question

Robert S. Wood, a political scientist at the University of North Dakota, said he agrees that dissatisfaction with the major parties is extremely high, and he wouldn’t be surprised if more voters cast “symbolic votes” for a third party.

But, as fast as the Libertarian Party has grown nationwide, it’s still vulnerable to having its issues co-opted by the major parties, Wood said.

That’s what happened to independent presidential candidate Ross Perot after the 1992 election. Perot ran on a deficit-reduction platform but, after Bill Clinton won the presidency, he turned his attention to the issue, effectively neutralizing Perot, Wood said.

In a similar way, libertarians can choose from both the Libertarian Party and the libertarian wing of the GOP exemplified by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky.

Seaman said he sees some advantages to this.

“Trying to evolve a third political party in this country is not something that’s going to happen overnight,” he said. “I would embrace ‘small-L’ libertarians as a step forward than having no other option.”

Asked if libertarians, who are closer to the GOP, might not be throwing their votes away if they voted for the Libertarian Party in a tight race and allow the Democrat to win, he said if everyone thought that way the two-party system would never end.

Turning point

Seaman said he grew up in Aberdeen, S.D., and always considered himself more or less a Republican because his parents are Republicans, too. But he was more a fiscal conservative than a social conservative, he said, which made him a “small-L” libertarian as well.

After attending North Dakota State University, Seaman stayed in Fargo and worked a variety of jobs until he came to own the MinDak Gold Exchange downtown. In the meantime, his libertarian beliefs deepened, and he became a devotee of Paul’s father, former Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas.

Seaman said it was the elder Paul who inspired him to sever his GOP ties after Paul sought and failed to win the party nomination for president in 2012. Paul’s supporters, including Seaman, alleged unfair treatment by the party establishment, which favored Mitt Romney. In some cases, they said, rules were changed to help Romney and suppress Paul.

Now, it’s 2014, and Seaman has spent a year campaigning as a Libertarian.

He said his message is resonating. Voters are fed up with constant bickering between the major parties as well as their willingness to compromise on core beliefs, he said. Voters also like his message of fiscal discipline, replacing federal income taxes with a national sales tax and avoiding foreign wars, he said.

But his desire to legalize marijuana, though appreciated by younger voters, will take some getting used to for older voters, he said.

“I’m literally running to the right of Kevin Cramer and to the left of George Sinner, and that’s a pretty wide range of voters to appeal to,” he said.

Despite his optimism, Seaman isn’t under any delusion that he’ll win, he just believes that it’s possible to win – eventually.

Small as it may be now, he said, the Libertarian Party is the fastest growing party in the country, so if it doesn’t win this year, maybe it will in two years, or 10 or 20.

“An avalanche starts with a single snowflake,” he said.

Ag chairman defends Cramer on farm bill delays

By Tu-Uyen Tran

Forum News Service

FARGO – Battling Democratic accusations that he tried to derail the farm bill last year, Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., is getting help from his House Agriculture Committee chairman.

In a conference call with reporters Monday, Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., contended that what might have appeared as the deliberate unraveling of a five-decade compromise between rural and urban interests was really a last-ditch effort to save the bill.

“Let me simply say this, the way the process came together, the challenges that Kevin and I faced in getting the final bill together were not of our making,” he said.

Since 1964, there has always been a link between programs helping farmers, supported by rural members of Congress, and programs to help the poor afford food, supported by urban members.

That link broke down for several months in 2013, according to Lucas, who placed much of the blame on “very idealistic food-stamp amendments” by some House Republicans wishing to burnish their credentials with tea party-affiliated conservative groups. It became impossible for Democrats, many of whom have poor urban constituents, to go along.

George B. Sinner, Cramer’s Democratic challenger, said Cramer and Lucas should have fought the tea party but, instead, accommodated it. “He’s trying to take credit for resolving problems that he and his party created,” Sinner said.

“The partisan bickering over last year’s Farm Bill process between my opponents in this race only reinforces the fact that the 2 party system is broken and we need to change it for good,” Jack Seaman, the Libertarian challenger, wrote in an email. He said he prefers to talk about the national debt and foreign policy.

Cramer embraced the tea party movement early on, and Sinner has used that fact to portray him as an extremist. But Cramer said he embraces the grass-roots activists, not the big-moneyed groups that he feels have taken over the movement and tried to drive a wedge between conservatives.

On Monday, Lucas recounted a conversation with a Republican colleague who voted against the farm bill even though it included some tough food-stamp amendments the colleague wanted. “The guy looked at me and said – and this is not a paraphrase, it’s almost an exact quote – ‘Oh chairman, I never intended to vote for the farm bill, I was just running up my score with Club (for Growth) and Heritage (Action for America), FreedomWorks and all those groups.’

“That’s when as chairman you have to show a major amount of physical self-control on the floor.”

The groups he named are conservative groups affiliated with the tea party movement, some of which threatened to downgrade Republicans who supported the farm bill, putting those Republicans at risk in the next primary against a tea party challenger.

The narrative that Lucas, Cramer and Sinner can agree on is that when the Agriculture Committee began working on the farm bill last year, both Democrats and Republicans thought they had enough votes. When it came time to discuss the food stamp portion of the bill though, it turned out they didn’t because tea party Republicans demanded tougher cuts than Democrats expected.

Lucas said he and Cramer decided on a “radical” change of tactics by having the House vote on food stamps and farm programs separately, allowing those that need credit for tough food stamp requirements to get it.

The intent was to bring both together for a final bill, at which time they hoped all House members would realize that, if it failed, there would be no farm bill, Lucas said.

Sinner said the House’s final farm bill was very close to the version in the Senate, which is controlled by Democrats – except the House was eight months late, leaving farmers in a lurch. Cramer and Lucas should have stood up to the tea party at the start, Sinner said.

N.D. Tourism to seek changes after sportsmen caught up in campaign ad

By Mike Nowatzki

Forum News Service

BISMARCK – North Dakota’s Tourism Division director said Monday she plans to seek changes to prevent political campaigns from using the agency’s stock footage, after four sportsmen who took part in a tourism video wound up in a campaign ad promoting a controversial ballot measure.

One of the sportsmen, Al Freidig, a Devils Lake real estate agent and avid hunter and fisherman, said he works with a lot of farmers – many of whom oppose Measure 5, the Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks amendment – and has privately shared his stance on the measure.

“I tell these people that no, I don’t support it, and then all of a sudden this commercial comes out and so it looks like I’m a liar. And some of these people take that very personally,” he said.

Tourism director Sara Otte Coleman said the stock footage is meant for use by tourism partners and media outlets. The sportsmen weren’t paid for their participation, she said.

When the agency received a request from Hamburger Strategies LLC of Washington, D.C., for footage to use in a political ad supporting Measure 5, “We were under the assumption that this wouldn’t be allowed,” she said.

The Tourism Division, part of the state Department of Commerce, consulted with its staff attorney, Assistant Attorney General Edward Erickson. He concluded that a change in state law would probably be needed to disallow use of stock footage for political purposes, and in the meantime, the agency had to hand over the footage, Otte Coleman said.

Before doing so, the agency sent letters to the four sportsmen, but some didn’t receive the letters because of address changes or other factors, she said.

“Some of them were blindsided, which was really unfortunate,” she said.

The 30-second ad begins with two Bismarck hunters, Bill Mitzel and Jon Mitzel, talking about passing on traditions. The four Devils Lake-area sportsmen – Freidig said all but him are hunting or fishing guides – appear for about two seconds, smiling and waving at the camera with fishing poles in their hands and the lake in the background.

Freidig said he’s an apolitical person and didn’t like being dragged into a commercial suggesting he supports something he had already voted against in early voting.

“We did something that we thought was good for the state of North Dakota. We volunteered our time, our equipment, our boats, things like that, to help out the state of North Dakota in promoting tourism,” he said. “We didn’t sign up to be in a political ad, because I’d never do that.”

“It’s totally disrespectful of the company that’s doing these ads or put this together not to contact us,” he added.

Steve Adair, chairman of the measure’s sponsoring committee, said the Tourism Division didn’t provide the sportsmen’s names.

“We would have been glad to contact them if that information had been provided,” he said.

Otte Coleman said they never asked for the names or for copies of the model release the four sportsmen had to sign. The release specifies that the footage may be used for advertising and editorial purposes, but it doesn’t specifically mention political purposes, she said.

Adair said there was a short window of time to put the ad together, “and we had lots of great footage with many North Dakotans. But I think that helped to round out the piece.”

“All these campaigns use publicly available footage, and that was fine,” he said. “It’s common practice.”

Otte Coleman said it’s the first time the she has run into the issue.

“We would have addressed it before,” she said. “We’re definitely going to look at a way to try to alleviate this problem in the future.”

Response to API complaint

Adair filed a complaint last week with the North Dakota secretary of state’s office, claiming anti-Measure 5 ads distributed by the American Petroleum Institute violated the state’s campaign disclosure laws because they didn’t list API’s “chairman or other responsible individual” as required by law for trade associations.

Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum responded to the complaint late Friday, sending API a copy of the complaint with a link to North Dakota’s law pertaining to disclaimers on political ads.

“We trust that you will make certain that all future political advertising in North Dakota will comply with the laws of our state,” he wrote.

Silrum informed Adair in a separate email that the office will take no further action on the matter, adding, “If you believe additional action must be taken, you may forward your complaint to the Burleigh County state’s attorney or local law enforcement to see if an investigation would be warranted.”

Adair said the campaign was still exploring its options. He said he would have liked to see a stronger message to API from the secretary of state’s office.

Measure supporters submitted a letter and evidence to the Burleigh County sheriff on Monday outlining what they say are suspected violations of North Dakota’s campaign laws by API for “false and misleading statements” about Measure 5.

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com.

Former US Attorney General: ND’s Measure 1 won’t lead to ‘parade of horrors’

Former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft speaks Thursday, Oct. 23, 2014, at the Fargo Air Museum about Measure 1, the “right to life” amendment on North Dakota’s ballot. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

By Ryan Johnson

Forum News Service

FARGO – A law on the books in Missouri for almost 30 years shows North Dakota’s “right to life” amendment wouldn’t lead to the “parade of horrors” its opponents have claimed, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Friday.

During a press conference at the Fargo Air Museum announced by ND Choose Life, the main coalition working to support passage of Measure 1, Ashcroft discussed why he believes the two contain “substantially the same” language – and wouldn’t cause the unintended consequences to end-of-life care and in vitro fertilization its opponents have raised as concerns.

While serving as governor of Missouri from 1985 to 1993, Ashcroft signed into law a statute approved by lawmakers that went into effect Jan. 1, 1988.

It defines life as beginning at conception and says “the laws of this state shall be interpreted and construed to acknowledge on behalf of the unborn child at every stage of development, all the rights, privileges and immunities available to other persons, citizens, and residents of this state …”

“That really says in words that aren’t quite as economical, but it says basically the same thing you have in Measure No. 1,” Ashcroft told a crowd of about 75.

Measure 1, put on the 2014 ballot when legislators approved a resolution during the 2013 session, would add to the state constitution: “The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.”

North Dakotans Against Measure 1, the main coalition opposing it, said in a Thursday press release the Missouri law and what’s proposed here are “very different.” Missouri has a state statute, while Measure 1 would amend the state’s constitution.

The release also said Missouri’s law specifically defines life as beginning at conception and includes “specific limitations” set forth by the U.S. and state constitutions and court rulings, limitations Measure 1 doesn’t have.

“Measure 1 is a constitutional amendment that is fundamentally different than an unenforceable state law in his home state,” Dina Butcher, chairwoman of North Dakotans Against Measure 1, said in written statement about Ashcroft’s visit. “The fact remains that Measure 1 is a permanent change to our constitution with far-reaching effects that include end-of-life directives and IVF treatments.”

Ashcroft, who also held a press conference in Bismarck on Thursday morning, said Missouri’s statute hasn’t prevented doctors there from being able to offer IVF infertility treatment.

The three IVF doctors in the state, who all practice at the Sanford Reproductive Medicine Clinic in Fargo, have previously said Measure 1 would make it “impossible” to continue offering IVF. Dr. Steffen Christensen, director of the clinic, said it will “cease and desist” IVF treatments within 30 days if approved by voters to protect the clinic’s staff.

Ashcroft also took on claims Measure 1 could prevent doctors from treating pregnancies with complications endangering the life of the mother and undermine an individual’s ability to determine their own end-of-life care directives. Neither has happened in Missouri since its statute, which he said contains “virtually identical” concepts as Measure 1, went into effect.

“We have not had any experience or difficulty that relates to the kind of terrible outcomes that some individuals have raised as a potential if this is enacted,” he said. “And while you don’t need people from Missouri to tell you how to vote, you do need to be voting based on the truth.”

Ashcroft said he didn’t know who paid for his trip to North Dakota. Shelle Aberle, communications director for ND Choose Life, also said she didn’t know who paid for Ashcroft’s visit, but he was invited to speak here by former Gov. Ed Schafer.

BREAKOUT

Poll shows 45 percent oppose, 39 percent support Measure 1

FARGO – New poll results released Thursday show more voters oppose than support North Dakota’s “right to life” amendment on the ballot.

The new poll, commissioned by the Say Anything Blog and Valley News Live, found 45 percent of the 430 “certain” or “very likely” voters surveyed opposed Measure 1, while 39 percent supported it. Sixteen percent were unsure.

The poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent, is based on surveys of respondents between Oct. 13 and 16.

An earlier poll commissioned by Forum Communications found 50 percent of respondents planned to vote in favor of Measure 1, while 33 percent said they’d vote “no” and 17 percent were undecided.

That poll was conducted in early October and also has a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

Measure 5 backers file complaint over ads by oil industry group

By Mike Nowatzki

Forum News Service

BISMARCK – Backers of a North Dakota ballot measure that would create a conservation fund with oil tax revenue complained Thursday that the American Petroleum Institute’s campaign ads against the measure violate state law.

Steve Adair, chairman of the measure’s sponsoring committee for Measure 5, filed an election complaint with Secretary of State Al Jaeger, alleging violations of campaign disclosure laws by API.

Adair argued in the complaint that API is violating the law because its ads include “Paid for by the American Petroleum Institute” but don’t list the name of the “chairman or other responsible individual” as required by law for trade associations.

“To us, the materials are clearly illegal, so we would hope that they would stop sending illegal material and we would hope that the people who have put up illegal material in their yards would take them down,” Adair said.

Eric Wohlschlegel, a spokesman for API, said via email that a forwarded copy of Adair’s complaint was “the first I’ve heard of this … and frankly it doesn’t make much sense.”

North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife and Parks is asking Jaeger to issue a cease-and-desist order directing API to stop distributing the campaign materials and to refer the matter to the Burleigh County state’s attorney’s office for further investigation and possible prosecution.

Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum said he had received the complaint and reached out to Jaeger, who was out of the office for travel to attend the commissioning of the USS North Dakota submarine on Saturday in Connecticut.

“I am not going to do anything until I’ve had a chance to speak with him,” Silrum said.

Campaign ads are increasingly being scrutinized in the battle over Measure 5, a constitutional amendment that would funnel 5 percent of the state’s oil extraction tax revenue into a fund and trust for the next 25 years to enhance conservation efforts and outdoor recreation. The state budget office projects the fund and trust would collect $308 million by July 2017.

The campaigns also have increasingly accused each other of being driven by out-of-state interests. Memphis, Tenn.-based Ducks Unlimited, which is spearheading the pro-Measure 5 campaign and has a regional office in Bismarck, has spent nearly $2.4 million on the campaign, while Washington, D.C.-based API has spent more than $1 million fighting the measure, according to disclosure reports.

Last week, measure opponents slammed supporters for using images of the South Dakota Badlands in a campaign mailer. Adair said the photos were incorrectly labeled by a stock photo vendor.

Supporters responded Thursday to what they called “false and personal attacks” against Amy Walker, who referred to herself in a pro-Measure 5 TV spot as “a teacher from Mandan” and is listed as a “High School Teacher, Mandan” in a campaign mailer.

Political blogger Rob Port called Walker a “fake Mandan teacher” in a post on his Say Anything Blog, noting she currently isn’t employed as a teacher in Mandan. He also pointed out that her husband is a Ducks Unlimited employee whose job would benefit from Measure 5’s passage. Johann Walker is director of conservation programs for Ducks Unlimited for North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana.

In a phone interview Thursday, Amy Walker said she taught at Mandan High School for at least eight years – a district official said she was hired in 2005 – and worked the first week or so of the 2013-14 school year before going on maternity leave. She resigned later that fall so she could stay home with her baby, she said, adding she recently signed up to be a substitute teacher in Mandan.

“That hurt, because I really felt like I am a teacher, and just because I’m at home taking care of my daughter right now … doesn’t mean than I’m any less of a teacher,” said Walker, whose North Dakota educator license is valid through 2016.

Walker also took offense at the suggestion that she was only appearing in the ad because her husband works for Ducks Unlimited, “as if I do not have an autonomous voice and opinion of my own.

“I found those comments to be very sexist,” she said.

Meanwhile, results of a DFM Research poll commissioned by Valley News Live and Say Anything Blog showed 55 percent of respondents opposed to Measure 5, 34 percent in favor of it and 11 percent undecided. The poll of 430 certain or very likely voters between Oct. 13 and 16 had a margin of error of plus or minus 4.7 percent.

Adair said internal and external polling has shown measure supporters ahead and behind, and he still considers it “a very tight race.”

Reach Nowatzki at (701) 255-5607 or by email at mnowatzki@forumcomm.com.

Group of 60 doctors: ‘Measure 1 is good for North Dakota’

Patricia Laqua (behind the podium) discusses why a group of North Dakota physicians support Measure 1 on Wednesday, Oct. 22, 2014 in Fargo. If approved by voters next month, the measure would add a “right to life” amendment to the state constitution. Ryan Johnson/The Forum

By Ryan Johnson

Forum News Service

FARGO – A group of 60 physicians in the state offered a “second opinion” to North Dakota’s “right to life” amendment Wednesday, saying they support the ballot measure and don’t fear it will lead to the wide-ranging unintended consequences its opponents have discussed.

During a news conference at Rosewood on Broadway, Fargo family medicine physician Patricia Laqua and 10 other doctors offered their support for Measure 1. They were speaking on behalf of the 60 physicians who have signed on in support of the amendment.

Laqua said the group strongly believes government shouldn’t interfere with the physician-patient relationship, and members also support the ability to make one’s own end-of-life decisions and get infertility treatment.

“We all care deeply about our patients and we care about what’s good for North Dakota, and we all believe that Measure 1 is good for North Dakota,” she said.

If approved by voters, the measure would add to the state constitution: “The inalienable right to life of every human being at any stage of development must be recognized and protected.” It was put on the 2014 ballot with legislators’ approval of a resolution during the 2013 session.

The state needs this, Laqua said, because supporters of unlimited abortion rights are now targeting states “to try and overturn common sense laws” regulating abortion.

She said these proponents had a victory here in a 2013 ruling by Judge Wickham Corwin that found a 2011 law approved by legislators banning one of two drugs used in nonsurgical abortions violated the state and U.S. constitutions.

That ruling, which has since been appealed to the state Supreme Court, found “an overt right to abortion without restriction under any circumstances,” Laqua said – an interpretation that “paves the way” to overturning the state’s other abortion regulations.

“Measure 1 would give clear language in the constitution to legislators and the judges that the default interpretation of our laws is to protect life,” she said.

Laqua brought up common concerns raised by Measure 1’s opponents and said these fears are “completely without merit.” She said she’s troubled by the main coalition calling for its defeat, North Dakotans Against Measure 1, getting the majority of its contributions from out of  state.

Most of the coalition’s funding has come from groups across the country affiliated with Planned Parenthood, “a group that has a vital interest in promoting unlimited abortion on demand and has absolutely no interest in end-of-life care or fertility treatment,” Laqua said.

She said Missouri and Arkansas have had similar legislation to Measure 1 on the books for years, yet the fertility clinics in those states continue to be able to offer in vitro fertilization – a point opponents have disputed because those laws differ from the language Measure 1 would add to the North Dakota Constitution.

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.

In a Wednesday email statement, Cindy Morrison, executive vice president of marketing and public policy, said Sanford Health will neither encourage nor discourage dissent to this measure.

“There is uncertainty with Measure 1 that raises questions regarding how this would impact IVF,” she wrote, adding that Sanford Health hopes those on both sides of the debate “will remember the individuals involved in every case and consider them as important as any ideology.”

Opponents also have said the measure’s “vague” language could affect several aspects of health care, including end-of-life care and treating pregnancies with complications endangering the mother.

But Paul Carson, an infectious disease specialist in Fargo, said it was drafted in a “very deliberate” manner to not be self-executing, meaning it wouldn’t on its own make, overturn or change laws.

“The language is meant to give a guiding principle for our legislators and our judges to interpret laws that our Legislature passes,” he said.

In an Oct. 8 letter to its members, the North Dakota Medical Association said it opposes Measure 1 because of its “unknown effects on the patient-physician relationship,” adding the “vaguely written” and “unclear” language is open to interpretation.

Walter Johnson, an internal medicine physician in Fargo, said the association never polled its members before arriving at that opposition, and many believed the group would remain neutral.

“When the poll came out that Measure 1 was actually doing well, suddenly the decision appeared, the process by which that occurred we don’t know,” he said.

Report advocates keeping N.D. pharmacy law

By Dave Olson

Forum News Service

FARGO – A nonprofit research organization has released a report that concludes North Dakota’s pharmacy ownership law is good for pharmacy care in the state.

“North Dakota’s superior pharmacy care is no accident but rather the result of a smart, forward-thinking policy choice,” said Stacy Mitchell, a co-author of the report issued by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, which has offices in the Twin Cities.

The report, an update to a similar paper released in 2009, reinforces arguments made by groups opposed to Measure 7, an initiated measure on the Nov. 4 ballot in North Dakota.

Measure 7 seeks to eliminate a state law that requires pharmacies to be majority owned by pharmacists licensed in North Dakota.

North Dakotans for Lower Pharmacy Prices, which supports Measure 7, unveiled a study last week that was paid for by Measure 7 supporters that predicts competition would increase and prescription drug prices would fall if North Dakota drops its pharmacy ownership law.

That report was authored by professors from the University of North Dakota and the University of Michigan.

By contrast, the report released by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance maintains that North Dakota’s pharmacy ownership law keeps drug prices in North Dakota relatively low compared to other states.

It also states that if the law is changed, North Dakota stands to lose about 70 independent pharmacies, which the report said contribute to tens of millions of dollars in economic activity and tax revenue.

A shift from locally owned pharmacies to chains and mail order firms, the Institute for Local Self-Reliance report said, would lead to direct economic losses in the state of at least $17 million a year and possibly as much as $29 million.

Measure 4 aims to limit initiated ballot measures

By Mike Nowatzki

Forum News Service

BISMARCK – If someone wants to know why North Dakota Republican lawmakers put Measure 4 on the November ballot, Sen. David Hogue tells them to look no further than Measure 5.

Measure 5 is the constitutional amendment that would direct 5 percent of the state’s oil extraction tax revenue into a trust and a fund for projects benefiting clean water, wildlife and parks.

Such measures won’t be eligible for future ballots if voters approve Measure 4. It would ban constitutional amendments that make a direct appropriation of public funds for a specific purpose or require the Legislature to do the same.

Voters could still initiate statutory measures – those that affect state law, not the state constitution – that would require the Legislature to appropriate money to a specific cause.

But Measure 4 would require that statutory measures estimated to have a “significant fiscal impact” be placed on the general election ballot, as opposed to the June primary ballot, which tends to draw lower voter turnout.

Hogue, a Minot attorney and Republican, said GOP lawmakers put Measure 4 on the ballot because of a combination of concerns about embedding spending mandates into the constitution and outside groups wanting to dip into oil-rich North Dakota’s tax revenue.

“With our newfound prosperity, we think there are a lot of organizations like (Measure 5 proponent) Ducks Unlimited who see our surplus as an opportunity to divert money for their special purposes,” he said.

Senate Minority Leader Mac Schneider, a Grand Forks Democrat and also an attorney, sees Measure 4 differently.

“I think it’s an attempted power grab by the Legislature that’s completely unjustified,” he said.

Dustin Gawrylow, a conservative activist who manages the North Dakota Watchdog Network website, said he agrees with Measure 4 supporters that appropriations shouldn’t be put into the constitution. But he said the problem is that Measure 4 could also prevent future constitutional measures that seek to abolish the income tax or property tax or limit the state sales tax, if they would force the Legislature to use other revenue sources.

“We agree that it’s bad in principle to use ballot measures to spend money and grow government. But we also think the genuine purpose of ballot measures is to be able to limit and restrain the Legislature, and this measure takes away the people’s ability” to do that, he said.

Republican legislators, who hold two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate, voted in April 2013 to approve House Concurrent Resolution 3011, resulting in Measure 4 on the Nov. 4 ballot.

The House passed the resolution 54-35, with Republicans accounting for all of the yes votes and 14 of the no votes. The Senate approved it 29-18, with GOP lawmakers again casting all of the yes votes and four of the no votes.

Hogue and House Majority Leader Al Carlson of Fargo, the resolution’s lead sponsor in the House, both point to California as a cautionary tale of how voter-initiated spending and tax mandates can plunge a state into major debt.

“I would say that it’s probably good management of the taxpayers’ dollars,” Carlson said of Measure 4. “It’s not a power grab.”

Schneider said North Dakota isn’t California.

“The people have consistently time and time again used the power of the initiated measure responsibly, and they have time and time again rejected ill-conceived ballot measures,” he said.

According to the secretary of state’s office, North Dakota voters have decided more than 480 ballot measures since statehood in 1889. The Nov. 4 ballot contains eight measures, the most since the June 1996 election.

Initiated statutory measures require 13,452 signatures from eligible voters to get on the ballot, while initiated constitutional amendments such as Measure 5 need 26,904 signatures.

When Carlson first introduced the resolution last year, it required that any citizen-initiated measure that would potentially cost more than $20 million be placed on a general election ballot. The $20 million figure was scrapped and replaced in the final version with the broader term “significant fiscal impact,” leaving it up to lawmakers to determine what that is.

Carlson said defining “significant” is “in the eyes of the beholder,” but in his opinion, it would have to be a measure with an impact of $30 million to $50 million or greater.

Schneider called Measure 4 “a solution in search of a problem” and said regardless of how one feels about Measure 5, it has inspired vigorous debate about an important issue.

“The people are going to have their say on Measure 5. And so to conclude out of hand that the people of North Dakota are going to always make the wrong decision when it comes to changing the constitution, I think, is selling the voters of North Dakota short,” he said.

Sinner wants to ban lying in political ads: Cramer says Sinner should just defend his record himself

By Tu-Uyen Tran

Forum News Service

FARGO – George B. Sinner, North Dakota’s Democratic candidate for U.S. House, hopes to outlaw dishonest political ads.

Tuesday, he said if he is elected Nov. 4 to the state’s sole House seat, he would work on legislation to have the Federal Election Commission require candidates to remove ads that are proven to be false and levy fines if they don’t.

“People are tired of these campaigns and the negative, dishonest ads that politicians run,” Sinner said. “We need something different. We need to change this process a little bit. I think there would be a groundswell of public support as well as many people in Congress today.”

He said he was inspired by attack ads put out by political action committees supporting the Republican incumbent, Kevin Cramer.

Cramer said Sinner’s proposal is “not a good idea.”

“When initial reaction to the scrutiny of your position is to want to regulate it, it violates the most fundamental principle of our free democratic society; that is, he wants to regulate political speech,” he said. “What he ought to do is defend his record rather than look to the government to somehow fine whoever it is that’s attacking his record.”

Sinner has in mind something resembling what the Federal Trade Commission now does with ads for products and services. He even calls it his “Truth in Politics” initiative, echoing the FTC’s “Truth in Advertising” program, under which the agency can sue companies for making false claims about their products or services.

The ads Sinner is taking Cramer to task for show it would be difficult to regulate political advertising.

In one ad, Cramer said he helped pass the farm bill, but Sinner and some farmers say that Cramer voted to split the bill into two components, one with agriculture programs and one with other programs, including food stamps, which delayed passage of the bill. The two components had always gone together because they give both rural and urban lawmakers what they want.

“Kevin Cramer’s vote on the farm bill delayed final passage for nearly eight months, leaving farmers and ranchers with uncertainty,” John Skogen, an Epping farmer wrote in a recent letter to The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead.

Cramer said many House Republicans wanted more time to debate the food stamps and splitting the bill made that easier. After each component was voted on, the House voted to stitch them together in one bill, he said.

There weren’t enough votes in the House to move the farm bill forward without that legislative maneuver, he said.

Nevertheless, this ad no longer appears on Cramer’s YouTube channel.

In another ad, Cramer said he supports an all-of-the-above energy policy. Sinner said Cramer actually opposes production tax credits for wind energy.

Cramer said that’s because he wants all energy sources to be treated equally and the wind industry is mature enough to survive without subsidies.

Sinner’s initiative to rein in political ads is just the latest of many around the nation. The North Dakota Century Code, for example, says anyone running a false ad is guilty of a Class A misdemeanor.

But experts say these laws are difficult to enforce and courts have weakened them over the years.

Just last month, a federal district judge struck down Ohio’s law and an appeals court struck down Minnesota’s law.

“The citizenry, not the government, should be the monitor of falseness in the political arena,” Judge C. Arlen Beam of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit wrote in his ruling against the Minnesota law. “Citizens can digest and question writings or broadcasts in favor or against ballot initiatives just as they are equally poised to weigh counterpoints.”

Conservation fund backers accuse oil lobbyist of ‘dirty tricks’

By Patrick Springer

Forum News Service

FARGO – North Dakotans for Clean Water, Wildlife & Parks accused an oil lobbying group of using “lies and dirty tricks” to try to defeat Measure 5 on the Nov. 4 ballot.

Conservation proponents singled out the American Petroleum Institute, a Washington, D.C., lobbying group that has pumped more than $1 million into the campaign to defeat Measure 5, which would set aside 5 percent of the state oil and gas extraction tax.

Budget officials project the measure, if passed, would allocate $259 million in the next two-year state budget, with almost $10 billion, in addition to a $1.6 billion budget surplus, available for other needs, said Steve Adair, chairman of the Measure 5 sponsoring committee.

“They are using the tried and true D.C. lobby tactic – scare people into a ‘no’ vote,” said Joe Herbst of Fargo, who has worked as a teacher and is getting his master’s to return to the classroom. “The fact is Measure 5 is not going to take funding away from the schools.”

Opponents of Measure 5, including the North Dakota Chamber and many agricultural groups, have unfairly portrayed the measure’s backers as out-of-state interests, supporters said. Ducks Unlimited, Adair’s organization, alone has more than 7,000 North Dakota members, a regional office in Bismarck, and has been supporting conservation projects in the state for half a century.

“We need to set the record straight,” Adair said. “This is enough.”

Meanwhile, a “toolkit” provided by the American Petroleum Institute to oil companies, urging them to have employees drum up pledges to vote “no” on Measure 5 and offering free lunches as an incentive. Questions can be directed to a Houston contact, Adair said.

“We find that appalling,” he said, in light of criticisms that Measure 5 is backed by out-of-state interests. Adair called the opponents’ efforts “lies and dirty tricks.”

A spokesman for the American Petroleum Institute defended its campaign against Measure 5, reasserting its arguments that money would be obligated under the proposed constitutional amendment.

“API’s member companies located in North Dakota share the concerns of the North Dakota Association of Builders, School Boards Association, Farmers Union, and many other North Dakota employers who view Measure 5 as a disservice to the state’s economy and its residents,” said Carlton Carroll the API.

“Enshrining inflexible spending into the state constitution would take $300 million off the table every two years for road building, human services, education and other priorities that are critical to the state’s long-term economic success.”

Rep. Ron Guggisberg, D-Fargo, said it is hypocritical for the oil industry lobby to sound the alarm about Measure 5’s budget impacts when oil companies were pushing for a 30 percent reduction in oil and gas taxes in the last legislative session.

“North Dakota has bent over backwards for the oil industry,” he said, adding that the state has spent millions of dollars on roads and other infrastructure.

Setting aside 5 percent of the existing oil and gas extraction tax “leaves 97 percent of oil taxes for other purposes,” Guggisberg said, including both production and extraction taxes.

Opponents also have claimed that Measure 5 would inevitably drive up farmland prices through land purchases and take land out of farming.

Any land purchases would go through a screening committee with agricultural representation, and ultimately must be approved by the governor.

“The land acquisition thing is totally baseless,” Adair said, adding large land purchases are “absolutely inconceivable. It’s not going to happen.”

Similarly, all spending by the conservation fund must be approved by the North Dakota Industrial Commission, comprised of the governor, agriculture commissioner and attorney general.

Spending cannot interfere with mineral extraction, litigation or lobbying. Funding must go toward flood control projects, restoration projects to protect clean water, wildlife habitat, parks, natural areas or recreation areas. Grants would be available to local governments, tribes, school districts, nonprofit organizations and state agencies, Measure 5 proponents said.

Contrary to opponents’ claims that 75 percent of the fund must be spent every year, the Industrial Commission could decide to “bank” money in a trust fund, similar to a savings account, Adair said.

On the other hand, a state version of the federal Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to idle marginal land for habitat, easily could mean spending $100 million a year, he said. Farmers have complained in recent years that CRP payments can’t compete with cash crops.

The Measure 5 proponents challenged Stacy Linden, vice president and general counsel of the American Petroleum Institute, to come to North Dakota to debate the issues. Carroll’s statement did not indicate whether she would accept the invitation, conveyed in a letter sent Tuesday by Adair.