TJ Jerke, Forum Communications Co., Published June 06 2012
Even supporters think Measure 1 may failEven its supporters think North Dakota’s Measure 1 is too complicated and too obscure to pass muster with Tuesday’s voters.
“Generally confusing issues like this one will fail, people take the safe route,” said state Sen. Lonnie Laffen, R-Grand Forks, who voted to put the constitutional amendment on the primary ballot.
Rep. Stacey Dahl, R-Grand Forks, who also voted for it, said the potential for the measure to fail is high because there may be a fear of change and a healthy level of skepticism about elected officials.
So what is it?
It should be familiar. The same measure failed in 2008 after 57 percent of voters said “no.”
A “yes” vote on Measure 1 would allow legislators to be appointed to full-time government offices. Such a position could not have been created while the individual appointed to it was in office, nor can it have received a pay increase greater than the general rate that full-time state employees got.
A “no” vote would keep the state constitution as it is, barring legislators from taking a state government office. The current law is a preventative measure to ensure legislators do not purposely increase the salary of a certain position with hopes of being appointed later.
Supporters say times have changed, the issues are more complex and the state needs people who understand those issues, legislators among them. Opponents say it’s a self-serving ballot measure that benefits very few.
Many observers agree Measure 1 is obscure, especially when Measures 2, 3 and 4 are getting all the attention.
“I haven’t seen a lot of advertising for it either way,” said Robert Wood, a UND professor of political science. “That leads me to believe this is a fairly low, complicated measure. My guess is the first time people will see this will be when they are in the ballot box.”
Dahl said Measure 1 has been lost in public debate because there are no groups lobbying for or against it.
Measure 4, involving UND’s Fighting Sioux nickname, and Measure 2, which would abolish property taxes, have gotten the lion’s share of media coverage. There have been some ads and support from churches for Measure 3, involving religious freedom.
“I imagine most voters are going to scratch their heads and wonder why it’s on the ballot,” said Sen. Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, who voted against it in the Legislature.
But Dahl said the public needs to have the debate to give them the opportunity to weigh both sides of the issue. She said the ballot measure allows voters to take a step back and question the issue.
“I don’t see it as a top priority,” she said. “But I do think it’s important to make sure we have the best candidates we can have, legislators or not, in some very strategic offices.”
The measure makes sure the governor can at least consider legislators who have expertise in areas when making an appointment.
Wood agreed, saying the vote comes at a time when the state is facing unprecedented opportunities and challenges. He said the oil boom in western North Dakota has changed things and the proposed amendment could help put the right people in the right positions.
“A lot of decisions now and the next few years are going to have ramifications in the way the state looks generations from now,” he said. “They need to be made right and need to have the right people making those decisions. If the constitution excludes an entire class of people who are the most engaged and informed, the state kind of shoots itself in the foot.”
Laffen said voters should pass the measure because the Legislature debated the issue and had a good reason to put it on the ballot.
In April 2011, the state House of Representatives voted 89-5 for it and the state Senate voted 37-8.
But Schneider said the measure is “inside baseball in terms of public policy.”
“The only people who care are legislators who would like to be appointed to statewide office,” he said. “It doesn’t affect the everyday lives for North Dakota.”
Schneider said he doesn’t know if there is a driving public policy rationale for passing the constitutional amendment. He said he doubts private citizens on their own would have put much effort into gathering signatures to put the measure on the ballot, so he doesn’t understand why it passed the Legislature.
Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, agreed. Voters are naturally skeptical of changes to the constitution when it deals with the Legislature, he said, and he didn’t think there was a great need for it.
“I think it will fail,” he said. “I think there will be reluctance on the part of the people and they might vote against it.”
TJ Jerke writes for the Grand Forks Herald