By now you’re well aware that the stage has been set for North Dakota to get the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum. According to the National Archives, this will be the 14th of its kind— 15th if we count the Barack Obama Presidential Library. After accepting the fact that their efforts were unconstitutional to push the Roosevelt library through on House Bill 1320, the North Dakota Legislature switched gears and voted it through on Senate Bill 2001— the governor’s budget.
Though I first wrote about — and opposed — use of taxpayer dollars for the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum way back in January of 2018, the real push for the project came from Governor Doug Burgum last December when he included it as part of his Executive Budget Address heading into the 2019 Legislative Session. At that time, Burgum proposed using $50 million of Legacy Fund earnings. In the end, the Legislature kept the $50 million endowment, but split it between $15 million from the General Fund and a loan of $35 million from the Bank of North Dakota. These dollars ultimately rest on private donors coming up with $100 million for construction.
Throughout the course of his advocacy for this project, Governor Burgum repeatedly made his view clear that this was a “once-in-a-lifetime” project. Pressure for lawmakers to give their approval came in many forms. One of those was that if North Dakota didn’t do this some other state would.
Opponents repeatedly made the argument — and rightfully so — that if this project was to be done, it should be with private funding. Period. Unfortunately, that logic wasn’t as convincing to lawmakers as the “once-in-a-lifetime” argument. But were they really even opposing arguments? I’d suggest they weren’t. Is it inconceivable that a person might believe the library is a “once-in-a-lifetime” project, while also holding to the idea that it should be done solely with private dollars? To any logical person it wouldn’t be.
So, why is it that so many were led to believe that these were opposing arguments? From my perspective, it seems to stem from the idea that if the state didn’t cough up the $50 million that private donors may take the project elsewhere. In fact, one source who attended a committee meeting reported to The Minuteman that supporters of the project repeatedly expressed in testimony the idea that, “If this doesn’t get built here, they’ll build it somewhere else.”
Yes, it seems North Dakota’s lawmakers, who were convinced the library would be good for the state, were strong-armed into ponying up the $50 million in order to get the $100 million— or risk losing the project. It’s really kind of insulting when you think about it.
Like other presidential libraries, apparently even the Barack Obama Presidential Library will have to sustain itself without public funds. According to the Chicago Tribune:
“… once it is built and transferred to the city, the [Obama Foundation] will pay the city a $10 fee and enter a 99-year contract to manage and occupy the property. The foundation will be allowed to hold private events for 12 days during a year, and no political fundraisers will be allowed.
“In addition, the money generated from parking fees will be dedicated to covering the operation costs of the facility. The museum and plaza will have to operate for hours similar to other Chicago museums. The foundation has to document that it can pay for the construction and create an endowment to keep the facility running.” (Emphasis Added)
If true, it should be an embarrassment to our super-majority Republican Legislature that they approved of using tax dollars to secure funding for a library that honors a Republican president, when a liberal safe-haven like Chicago required documentation proving private funding was available for an endowment to keep a library running that will honor perhaps our most liberal president ever. But that’s what we get when the majority of the North Dakota Legislature aren’t who they should be.
Make no mistake about it, Governor Burgum is banking on the hope of the Theodore Roosevelt Library & Museum increasing traffic to North Dakota. According to attendance statistics from the National Park Service, Theodore Roosevelt National Park was #28 out of 59 national parks in 2017— a whopping 708,003 people visited. Just to crack that top 20, they’ll have to nearly double that number.
Whether he realizes it or not, Governor Doug Burgum’s own legacy — for good or bad — may well hinge on the success of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library & Museum. For those of us who opposed the use of taxpayer dollars on this project, his legacy has admittedly already taken a hit. But for others, if we end up with a structure that doesn’t meet the hype, and does little to benefit the people of North Dakota, then expect resentment.
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