By now you’re likely aware of the North Dakota Legislature voting to strip the State Auditor of his authority to initiate performance audits. This took place in Senate Bill 2004. Not only did I write about it the day the House voted on its final passage, but we also published a separate article encouraging readers to contact Governor Doug Burgum and ask him to line item veto the effort. Unfortunately, it seems Burgum had little interest in putting a kibosh to childish politics when he ignored those requests and signed the bill into law last Thursday.
Describing Governor Burgum’s decision as a disappointment would be a horrible understatement. I personally feel that this move against the State Auditor was the worst of the entire Legislative Session— and that’s saying a lot when we consider how awful it was at times. In fact, gutting the State Auditor’s office might just be the worst thing I’ve seen in North Dakota politics. Why? Because this isn’t just a move to strip the State Auditor of his authority. It’s more than that. This is an attack on accountability and transparency— which is really a slap in the face to the people of North Dakota. If this doesn’t infuriate you, then I don’t know what would.
As bad as all of this was, the most surprising thing in this process wasn’t the fact that it actually passed and was signed into law. When all was said and done, I couldn’t believe that it passed the Senate by a 46-0 vote. Don’t get me wrong, I’m well aware that the Senate is no bastion of limited government common sense. I get that. But to think that not a single one of them voted against the bill— How is that even possible on an issue as vital as this? Did they all truly support the effort? Did some simply miss the details? Or was it legislative exhaustion with it being the third to last day of the session? Ultimately, each Senator must answer these questions for themselves. After all, they’re responsible for their votes.
The Senator who explained the bill on the Senate floor was Dave Oehlke (R – District 15). I encourage you to listen to his comments here and draw your own conclusions. In my opinion, Oehlke wasn’t exactly forthright with the full implications of what the conference committee’s amendment did to the bill. Yet, he most certainly eluded to it. In fact, at one point he expressed:
“It seemed like our [conference] committee, Mr. President, was very interested in diving into more of the operations of the Auditor’s office and finding out, you know, just how they do things and encouraging them to provide more information to the legislature, so that we can keep a little bit of a handle on what’s happening in our Auditor’s office. Seems like we do that in a lot of agencies.” (Emphasis Added)
Now that it’s widely known what the amendment does, we know exactly what Senator Oehlke’s comments meant. It’s a troubling statement, to say the least. But it wasn’t until the bill reached the House, and Rep. Jeff Magrum (R – District 28) blew the lid off the issue, that we knew the full implications of what was going on.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again— I think our current State Auditor Josh Gallion is doing a great job. And while I truly believe this amendment becoming law was the result of petty politics, resulting from Gallion’s valiant efforts to do the job we elected him to do, its effects extend far beyond him.
In the concluding moments of floor debate in the House, Rep. Luke Simons (R – District 36) rose and said this:
“Thank you, Mr. Speaker. Members of the Assembly, the people literally vote this man in to audit and rein in bureaucrats— government. And now we’re stripping [him] of that power. This is a major deal, folks. This possibly could be one of the biggest bills of the session. The people literally just put in Measure 1. They’re concerned. This is not gonna fly. There will be repercussions to this vote. I would urge you to vote No and give our auditor the power he was supposed to have — that he does have — to keep this government, hopefully, running somewhat not corrupt. I urge us to keep accountability in our government.”
As I said before, I cannot explain why there wasn’t a single Senator who voted against the effort to strip our State Auditor of the authority to initiate performance audits. But now that the bill has become law, what will we do about it? Political repercussions, like those spoken of by Rep. Simons, don’t come from the people doing nothing.
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