It was horribly disappointing when Governor Doug Burgum ignored calls to veto the effort to strip the State Auditor of his authority to conduct performance audits and signed the Legislature’s power grab into law. But to see yesterday’s editorial in the Bismarck Tribune reveal comments made by Burgum, about those of us who oppose the move, took the disappointment to a new level.
Gary Adkisson — publisher of the Bismarck Tribune — wrote of his exchange with North Dakota’s first term governor after asking “how castrating the state auditor fit into his definition of transparency.” Adkisson’s choice of words were interesting, but applicable nonetheless.
According to the editorial, Governor Burgum “immediately became defensive” when asked about the issue. He attempted to justify signing the bill by saying that unplanned audits hurt the budgets of those being audited— a claim that State Auditor Josh Gallion refuted in a recent interview with Point of View’s Chris Berg (go to 3:25 mark).
Taking him at his word though, Adkisson pointed out to Burgum that “that excuse doesn’t hold water when you look at all the plans the Legislature and the governor created to spend Legacy earnings” and that putting “aside a couple of million for unplanned audits would have been a drop in the bucket compared to the Legacy funding commitments.”
To this, the “governor quickly pivoted and said he agreed to rein in the auditor because the Legislature had overwhelmingly passed the measure.” But Adkisson nailed Burgum on this excuse as well, when he pointed out that the governor had vetoed Senate Bill 2055, “which passed both the Senate and House with huge margins and then both overrode his veto in nearly unanimous votes.”
And so, Adkisson says with “that argument shot down the governor then turned to the tried and true tactic of attacking our motive in asking the question” when he says:
“This is only an issue with a couple hundred people on social media.”
There’s no question this wasn’t Governor Burgum’s best moment. In fact, I’d dare say he only made an already less than ideal situation worse for himself. You see, many of the very people — if not most — who oppose what the Legislature and Governor Burgum have done to our State Auditor also supported Burgum in his bid to be North Dakota’s Chief Executive. Further alienating those same individuals by calling them “a couple hundred people on social media” isn’t helpful— at all.
The message Governor Doug Burgum sent by making such a comment is clear— he knows best and he has no qualms about marginalizing those who disagree. It’s really the kind of rhetoric you’d expect from a King to his subjects, not an elected leader.
As a result of the entire exchange, Adkisson writes:
“If it hasn’t become clear to the governor and the Legislature yet that this blatant attempt to shield themselves from public scrutiny and accountability has backfired on them, they are not listening. That they have stalled voter-approved ethics reform simply confirms their disdain for the voter.
“If they decide to leave the problem for a fix in the next legislative session many of them may not be around to participate. After all, there is an election preceding the next session and we will be sure to remind the voters what the governor and Legislature did in the closing hours of the 2019 session.”
Adkisson may be right.
Burgum is obviously frustrated with having to answer for his decision to put his signature of approval on “castrating the state auditor”. But he has nobody else to blame for that but himself. And referring to those who oppose his decision as “a couple hundred people on social media” was just a really dumb thing to say.
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