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Stuart Brown, Published March 27 2010

Berg’s unsavory record

I have enjoyed reading the opinion of others as we look toward the coming elections in our state. Based on the love fest that seems to be building around Rep. Rick Berg, R-Fargo, I feel the need to offer an alternative point of view.

Berg recently fired his campaign director for using a confidential North Dakota Republican Party list that was to be used only with their expressed permission. The thing about this that has me more than a little curious is, how could Berg not have known in advance that this was going to happen, let alone give a nod of his head to proceed? To suggest that this was not the case is either obfuscation or, perhaps worse, showing a weakness in leadership in that he is unaware of what his own trusted top aides are doing on his behalf. It stretches credulity, and either way it points to questionable character.

Further, when one looks at his track record, one has to question his judgment. Today, North Dakota is one of the very few states that has a budget surplus. Conversely, one only has to look across the Red River to see what almost all other states are dealing with as they try to balance a budget that cannot be balanced without extreme pain on everyone’s part.

A few years ago, Berg proposed that North Dakota slash the taxes on new oil wells as means of enticing companies to drill more exploratory wells. Thankfully, the bill never passed. If it had, North Dakota would not be in the enviable budget position it is today, while every other state budget has tanked with the recession. And, yes, the national recession that we are pulling out of, coupled with higher petroleum prices, triggered much of the surplus we enjoy today. My point is, had Berg had his way, North Dakota would be struggling like all of the other states.

Another point of interest was his involvement in WSI restructuring. WSI, or North Dakota Workers Compensation, as it used to be called, had some major issues that culminated with a restructuring in the early part of this decade. Some of the issues were that denial rates were deemed too high, which in turn caused excessive hardship on injured workers, and that the premiums had been kept artificially low, presumably for political reasons.

Berg was at the forefront of the changes that were made, assuring everyone in North Dakota that new management who no longer answered to the governor, coupled with a premium (tax) reduction for employers (see the common theme?) would right the ship that is WSI. The fund was balanced, and claims were resolved more quickly, but the denial rates subsequently went higher. Additionally, we became aware of management problems within WSI that culminated in the firing of the director.

Fast-forward to 2008 when Berg’s committee held hearings on this mess and asked (to his credit) for WSI employees with grievances and individuals whose claims were denied to step forward to give testimony. The part that leaves a bad taste in my mouth about this is that when questioned about his involvement in the legislation that created this mess, he had the temerity to say something to the effect of “Now is not the time to point fingers and place blame.” Why not? You were one of the drivers of the change that took place.

I believe that if Berg becomes our representative in Washington, we will get more of the same: “Now is not the time to point fingers and place blame.”

My hope is that North Dakotans will use sound judgment and stay with the individual who is in the best position to continue to help us, and that is our current representative, Earl Pomeroy.