John D. Olsrud, Bismarck, Published June 29 2013
Letter: Bipartisan leadership is smarterIt was a sad day for North Dakota when the majority in legislative management decided not to appoint a single member of the minority to chair an interim legislative committee. The majority leadership has damaged an institution every North Dakotan could be proud of – the bipartisan interim study traditions of the legislative branch.
The reason for appointing members of the minority party to chair study committees is not to reward those members. It is to take politics out of the interim study process. North Dakota has a proud tradition of using the interim between sessions to study and find solutions to problems.
Smart leaders of the majority party have known how to use the minority to remove politics from hard decisions. My favorite example is when a fire severely damaged the main building at the State Normal and Industrial School in Ellendale, a constitutional institution of higher education. Republican leaders, especially Rep. Bryce Streibel, R-Fessenden, who was House majority leader and chairman of the Legislative Council, knew how damaging this issue would be if it became a partisan issue. Using the bipartisan structure he had inherited, Streibel appointed a Democrat, Rep. Oscar Solberg, to chair an interim committee to study what should be done. Republicans controlled the process because they had the votes, but by appointing a Democrat to chair the committee, Streibel removed politics from the issue, and Solberg’s committee made recommendations that resulted in closing the school.
Continuing the bipartisan traditions of the interim process has always been a challenge for the majority party, and majority leaders have had to account to members of their caucuses who did not understand why minority members were chairing committees. Until that tradition was broken in 2011, majority leaders of both parties, including Democrats when they controlled the Legislative Council from 1986 to 1994, stood strong in honoring a tradition that has served our state well.
By refusing to name members of the minority to interim committee chairmanships, the Republican majority leadership has turned the interim study process into a partisan arena that has relegated the minority to the sidelines. Because they are removed from leadership, all the minority can do is take issue with the majority by writing letters to the editor and issuing news releases criticizing the majority party for the decisions they make in a partisan atmosphere.
Without any minority party chairmanships, the nonpartisan Legislative Council staff is placed in the uncomfortable position of appearing to be working for only one political party. The result is a polarized process. We are all losers as a result.
Olsrud is an attorney who spent 40 years with the Legislative Council, the last 25 as director. He retired in 2006. He has degrees in public administration and law from the University of North Dakota.