Lloyd Omdahl, Published November 29 2010
Omdahl: Wrigley takes on great jobDear Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley:
First, congratulations on your appointment by Gov. Jack Dalrymple. Be a good choice.
Frankly, I have always believed that lieutenant governors should be appointed rather than elected. The governor needs a compatible administrator, not another ambitious politician. Elections serve political purposes; appointments promise competence.
I might as well go one step further and say that the lieutenant governor has no business presiding in the Senate. In 1976, the lieutenant governor became a full-time member of the executive branch. That made his/her presence as the presiding officer of the Senate a violation of the principle of separation of powers without doing anything for checks and balances. The same is true for the vice president presiding in the
When he was a member of the Senate, Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem and I conspired to get a constitutional amendment passed to remove the lieutenant governor from the chamber. In fact, the first vote I cast in the Senate was to pass the resolution putting the issue on the 1990 ballot. It was soundly defeated, not because it was a bad idea but because the electorate was not informed about the doctrine of separation of powers.
The lieutenant governor should not be presiding in the Senate for several other reasons. The lieutenant governor has a full plate of year-around administrative and executive duties to occupy his time. These have to be scaled down or neglected during the session while the lieutenant governor focuses on his temporary but time-consuming legislative job. Besides, there are 47 senators on the floor, any one of whom would love to have the position of president of the Senate.
Since you haven’t served in the Legislature before, you probably feel uneasy about presiding over 47 senators, some of whom have spent years working with the rules you are about to learn. I suppose your favorite reading these days is Mason’s “Manual of Legislative Procedure,” the bible for legislative bodies.
Faced with the same situation in 1989, I studiously reduced the most important rules to 25 pages of notes. Then I went down to the Senate and discovered that there was a little book that provided everything you needed to know about the rules of order and the motions to apply.
Having read the “Manual” turned out to be a liability. Senators are there to do business, not wrangle about the rules. If fully applied, the “Manual” would tie the place into knots. Besides, most of the senators know only enough rules to get by so they are not second-guessing your decisions. You will find them very tolerant of your mistakes.
Whenever you make mistakes, it is time to consult with some older senator. My mentors were Sens. Evan Lips of Bismarck and Rolland Redlin of Minot. After the day’s session, Evan would head for the desk and I knew that he had noticed something amiss. He would gently point out the error, and I would be more learned the next time around.
Always preserve the dignity of the Senate. Disregard the unruliness of that bunch across the hall. Disorder has become the culture in the House. It is beyond salvation.
The lieutenant governorship is a great job. Its immediate purpose should be to relieve the over-worked governor, not serve as a launching pad for a political career. That comes later.
Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and a retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. E-mail email@example.com