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John W. Johnson, Published July 17 2011

Is Al Carlson a phony populist?

‘Political populism” is the taking of a political stand in the interests of the average citizen against the establishment. There have been “populists” of both of our major parties. Two past presidents come to mind who embodied “populism”: Teddy Roosevelt, Republican and Harry Truman, Democrat. North Dakota’s most famous populist politician was Bill Langer, who was in both the NPL (Non-Partisan League) and Republican parties during his career. Students of North Dakota politics should learn about his exploits.

Did Rep. Al Carlson, R-Fargo, see himself as the inheritor of a populist movement when he decided to sponsor a bill for the residents of North Dakota to take on the NCAA over the University of North Dakota nickname issue?

But is the NCAA really the bad guy? They gave UND a several-year window of opportunity to reach an agreement with the American Indian entities. They gave that same opportunity to the Florida State Seminoles, the University of Illinois Fighting Illini and the Central Michigan Chippewas. All received the required approvals. Other schools did not: Stanford University, Miami of Ohio, St. John’s University (N.Y.), among others, changed their logos and nicknames. Was UND treated unfairly?

Why did Carlson attempt to get involved so late in the process? Why didn’t he or a delegation of lawmakers attempt to resolve the issue with the Standing Rock Nation a legislative session, or two, earlier? Or was this just an opportunity for him to gain name and political standing in the state?

Carlson misread his opponent. The NCAA is not singling out UND punitively. It followed an accepted timeline procedure that it had given other institutions. He has commented that “there is a group of anti-nickname folks” trying to cloud the issue. Does he consider former Gov. Ed Schafer as part of that group when Schafer said, “It’s over and time to move on”?

For myself, this is now not about the appropriateness of the nickname but the process. I go to those hockey games not to cheer the logo but to support the finest coaches in the land as they lead highly skilled athletes playing hockey at the premier collegiate level.

People want this to be over. Besides, how much is it going to cost the taxpayers of the state to send Carlson’s delegation to meet with the NCAA? I’ve heard $6,000 is the low end of the estimate.

It is for the residents of the state to judge Carlson’s motives. Is he populist or opportunist?


Johnson lives near Warren.