Playing Hardball in State Politics

Lloyd Omdahl

 Coming from a small town family, the day came when I thought my city-raised son ought to experience the macho sport of shooting gophers. So one sunny day I got out my trusty J.C.Higgins shotgun and announced that we would reduce the number of predators in the land.

 He responded with a question: “Why?” I couldn’t give him a logical answer. “Because it’s fun” didn’t seem to make moral sense so we put the gun away and left the gophers to their world.

Man is the only animal that kills for pleasure. There are other animals – panthers, weasels, etc. – that seem to be killing for pleasure but they are thinking of winter, teaching the kids, thinning the enemy and other reasons that are rational in their instinctive way.

 This brings us to the political situation in North Dakota where we can see killing for pleasure. With the completion of the decennial census, figures will be available so the Legislature can redraw boundaries for electing senators and house members.

 The conservative shift in North Dakota combined with malapportionment of the legislative seats has now given the Republicans six times as many seats than those held by Democrats – roughly 120 to 20. By using high tech computer programs, malapportionment has become a science.

 In the upcoming reapportionment we will see man killing for pleasure. Republicans can win both houses without malapportionment but it is so much fun to wipe out another Democrat that we will move this line two miles and cut this Democrat out of his/her seat.  

 Because every sitting legislator wants to keep his/her seat, Republicans will be giving up no seat out of fairness or compassion. They will try to keep all seats, even expanding the size of the legislature to be sure that no Republican loses a seat in the decennial lottery.

It is during the reapportionment process that we see the use of raw power. Even though the Republicans can govern without winning another seat, their lust for the sport will overcome them. They will protect the malapportionment they already have and try to add more malapportionment before the 2023 season. It’s hardball all the way. 

Since I am no longer a privileged member of the “smoke-filled” room, I am not privy to the plans for the resuscitation of the Democratic-NPL. But it seems time for them to play hardball or move to a different league.

 But there isn’t any need to end the game by swinging at a wild pitch. They have access to what was once referred to as “the gun behind the door” – the constitutional right to initiate constitutional amendments and laws and to refer acts of the Legislature. 

 So what do legislators have to fear from this party peering over the cliff of extinction?  A lot. The little party could capitalize on this fear by proposing popular reforms to shatter the comfort of the present officeholders.

 Anyone in the populace that can whisper “term limits” has within his or her power to win a sweeping reform without a campaign. People believe in term limits.

Another crowd rouser is “conflicts of interest”. Any measure that suggests possible corruption will pass handily. This was demonstrated when the ethics commission appeared on the ballot. The only problem is that the present power structure owns it.

Maybe the day is coming when the advantages of the one-house legislature will be seen in North Dakota as it was in Nebraska in 1934.  Believe it or not, Nebraska did not detonate as predicted by the 2-house manipulators and has continued as a viable state for over 80 years.

If the Democrats want to be in contention, they must learn to play hardball, throwing curves and stealing bases.

K. William Boyer is the Managing Editor of the Devils Lake News Journal. He can be reached at kboyer@gannett.com, or by phone at (701) 662-2127.  

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