The meeting achieved two important goals. It created new legislative districts and blew a billion dollars in just five days. Much of the heavy lifting of budgeting and reallocation was done prior to the meeting. There have been other developments, but none as significant as these.
Senator Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, played a particularly large role. He chaired the Redistricting Committee with his colleague, Rep. Bill Devlin von Finley. Holmberg is also the chairman of the Senate Approval Committee. Rep. Jeff Delzer of Underwood is his counterpart in the house. These committees set up many hours before the meeting.
The new district lines met with some resistance, particularly from lawmakers whose political future is threatened by the changes. The new map shifts legislative power from rural areas to growing cities and from the eastern part of the state to the fast growing west. It has also swept some of the Republican Party’s troublemakers into districts where they will face competition from more centrist lawmakers. What the new card doesn’t do is divert power away from the Republicans. The influence of the GOP on the political system of the state cannot be weakened by this reassignment.
Another major change is the creation of sub-districts in two districts with large indigenous populations. Some lawmakers protested, but the argument that federal courts would invalidate the plan without the subdistricts was ultimately compelling. At first glance, subdistricts should favor the Democrats, but on closer inspection the result will be a tie. The division of District 4, which contains the Fort Berthold reservation, is likely to cost Republicans one seat. The incumbent there is Terry Jones, an ardent member of the right-wing Bastiat Caucus. On the other hand, splitting up District 10, which contains the Turtle Mountain reservation, is likely to be a Republican gain as the native population will only be in the majority in one sub-district.
The real momentous change is taking place in McKenzie County, which has seen more population growth than any other county in the United States over the past decade. That means Oil Country will be more represented than before, and that’s not limited to McKenzie County. Other counties in the northwestern part of the state were tightened as the population in those counties grew and some parts were relocated to other counties.
The biggest losers in the remapping effort are in the northeast, including Grand Forks County, where the population has increased but not enough to save the one rural district in the district that was annexed to Traill County. This also happened a little further west, where the districts grew larger due to population losses. The same thing happened in the southeast corner of the state. It is too early to say what the consequences are. That depends on the candidates who stand up and those who win seats in the 2022 election.
The meeting’s other accomplishment was spending $ 1 billion on federal COVID relief funds. These became available through the American Rescue Plan, which was passed early in the Biden administration. The deadline for using the money is still several years away, but Governor Doug Burgum urged lawmakers to spend it now on infrastructure and tax breaks, arguing that because interest rates are low and the state is rich, infrastructure will be cheaper and can afford a discount part of his property to taxpayers.
Legislators bought both arguments, but not without hesitation. The governor’s tax break plan means lower taxes by exempting Social Security benefits from taxation and granting each income taxpayer up to $ 350 ($ 700 for couples) credit for each of the next two years. Some lawmakers wanted to make the income tax cut permanent.
The largest infrastructure items also met resistance. One, a $ 150 million donation to start a natural gas pipeline to east North Dakota, met opposition from other fuel suppliers, but it still worked with an add-on to build a short gas pipeline from Minnesota to Grand Forks to be okay to meet the requirements of a corn mill to be built here.
The Senate saw a last-minute attack on the next major infrastructure bill for buildings on college campuses in Grand Forks, Minot and Bismarck. Edinburgh Senator Janne Myrdal tried to cut the funds, arguing that the decision should wait for the 2023 session. Your amendment was rejected.
The session began with a loud demonstration on the Capitol grounds, a preliminary stage to a series of so-called “social” issues. These aimed at mask and vaccination requirements and the so-called “critical race theory”, which the legislature banned from the classrooms of the state. While these have a lot of ink and airtime, they are of little concern. Educators cannot avoid teaching the truth of American history, which includes both slavery and genocide. These are problems we Americans face while holding on to another truth in our national history, namely that human rights are being won. As for mask requirements and vaccinations: the sooner we all take responsibility for our neighbors, the sooner we will get rid of this virus.
Again, it is worth reading and appreciating the US Constitution’s aspirations toward a “more perfect union,” which suggests that the United States did not start off perfectly. We have to work on it.
Mike Jacobs is a former editor and publisher of the Grand Forks Herald.