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Chuck Haga, Forum Communications Co., Published January 26 2012

UND nickname: Spokesman says petition drive ‘going to be close’

GRAND FORKS – With just two weeks to go before the Feb. 7 filing deadline, the petition drive to put the Fighting Sioux nickname issue to a statewide vote in June has about a 50 percent chance of succeeding, a spokesman said Thursday.

“The best I can say right now is it’s a horse race,” said Reed Soderstrom, a Minot attorney and member of the committee sponsoring the referral drive.

“It’s going to be close,” he said. “We’re either going to make it by a little or miss it by a little.”

The nickname supporters, including members of the Spirit Lake and Standing Rock Sioux tribes, seek to overturn the North Dakota Legislature’s repeal of a law requiring the University of North Dakota to retain its former nickname and logo.

They must file petitions with 13,500 valid signatures with the state by Feb. 7 to put the question on June primary election ballots.

Soderstrom estimated in a court proceeding Jan. 13 that about half that number had been collected. They were in court trying to gain access inside Ralph Engelstad Arena during hockey games, where it would be easier to work the crowds, a request that was denied.

“We’re more than halfway now, but I honestly don’t know how many people are out there circulating for us,” Soderstrom said Thursday.

Soderstrom said he regrets not revving up the petition drive immediately after Gov. Jack Dalrymple signed the November special session bill that repealed the nickname law.

“There’s nobody to blame for that but ourselves,” he said, noting it took 30 days to get the petitions filed and approved by the secretary of state. “We’d sure love to have those 30 days back.”

“We’re quickly running out of time, and a lot of doors have been shut to us – not just The Ralph, but also the Bismarck Civic Center,” several malls and heavy-traffic stores.

He said he is still weighing whether to appeal the Grand Forks County District Court decision two weeks ago denying the petition circulators access to the hockey arena.

“I respect the decision, but I don’t agree with it,” he said. “And I think it’s had a ripple effect,” encouraging other private and “quasi-public” venues to exclude petition circulators.

Soderstrom said he remains confident that nickname supporters will collect the necessary 27,000 signatures for an initiated measure that would place the Fighting Sioux name in the state constitution.

That vote would be held in the November general election, and the deadline for filing petitions is Aug. 8.

“That will be easy,” Soderstrom said. “We have plenty of time, and I know we’ll get there.

Chuck Haga writes for the Grand Forks Herald.