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Jack Zaleski, Published September 01 2012

Zaleski: The other 49 want to be North Dakota?

The North Dakota Petroleum Council, the trade group for the state’s oil and gas industry, is airing a television spot that starts out like this: The nation has 50 states and all of them want to be North Dakota.

I disagree.

First, such an assumption about 49 other states is arrogant. It strays mightily from the “North Dakota nice” that is a genuine sentiment among most North Dakotans. It’s just damn snooty.

But the ad’s arrogance aside, the curious conclusion that every other state “wants to be North Dakota” can’t stand up to honest scrutiny. No matter how strong North Dakota’s economy is because of the oil boom, no matter how many jobs have been created, no matter how much revenue is sloshing into state coffers – it’s a sure bet there are states that are quite content with their own identities, histories, culture, cities and natural wonders, even if their economies are not booming away.

When North Dakota’s economy was struggling (as in most of the state’s history), did North Dakota long to be California (when it really was the golden state) or beautiful Vermont or rapidly growing Arizona? Of course not. North Dakotans, stoic and hardworking, buckled down and got through the hard times, always anticipating better times.

The better times have come, although the impact of oil will prove to be a mixed blessing. The petroleum council’s slick TV spot concedes as much when it says the industry is lessening the impact on wildlife – an admission there is an impact that needs to be lessened.

It’s possible the oil folks were trying to say other states are envious of North Dakota’s economic good fortune, but that’s not what the ad connotes. It suggests all those other proud and unique states would rather be something else, simply because oil is affording one state a temporary economic boom. That’s insulting.

Oil development is a good thing for North Dakota. Its beneficial effects are being felt everywhere in the state, not just in the west. Every North Dakotan will share in the new prosperity in some way. We can all be pleased about that. But hubris of the sort displayed in the council’s TV spot is never pretty. It’s not who we are – or who we profess to be.

Contact Editorial Page Editor Jack Zaleski at(701) 241-5521.