Bills begin to gnaw at GF lawmakersMembers of Grand Forks’ legislative delegation say they’re not exactly thrilled by the prospect of a renewed debate over UND athletics’ Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, which could result from bills introduced in the House this week to give the symbols a statutory blessing.
By: Chuck Haga, Grand Forks Herald
Members of Grand Forks’ legislative delegation say they’re not exactly thrilled by the prospect of a renewed debate over UND athletics’ Fighting Sioux nickname and logo, which could result from bills introduced in the House this week to give the symbols a statutory blessing.
Three House members, including the Republican majority leader and a former speaker, introduced bills Monday that would burn the nickname into state law and prohibit UND and the State Board of Higher Education from retiring it.
“I’ll probably vote yes” if a nickname bill reaches the Senate, Sen. Ray Holmberg, a Republican who represents District 17. “One of the things we do here is reflect our constituents, and there are a lot of people who want to keep the name.”
But Holmberg noted the constitutional questions facing lawmakers, and he said he was “cool” to the idea of a constitutional amendment. The State Board has a constitutional mandate concerning operations at UND and other institutions under its control “so the Legislature doesn’t micromanage any more than they do in higher education.”
Sen. Connie Triplett, a Democrat representing District 18, said the State Board of Higher Education “has been through a long and excruciating process on this topic, and I think it’s time that everyone lets the matter lie. It’s absolutely time to let this rest.”
Comments from other Grand Forks lawmakers:
- Rep. Lois Delmore, a District 43 Democrat, said “it seems to be at an odd time in the process to be going back on this, but it should make for an interesting floor debate.” She said it’s “not a case of liking or not liking the nickname anymore, but a question of potential complications” of retaining the name, such as UND’s recent acceptance into the Big Sky Conference.
- Rep. Lonny Winrich, a District 18 Democrat, said he opposes the effort. “I’m not happy about it,” he said. “The State Board spent a very long time considering this, and I don’t think it’s appropriate for the Legislature to get involved now. … It will just cause more turmoil.”
- Sen. Mac Schneider, a Democrat representing District 42, said he had wanted the nickname to continue, “but we have to ask now at what cost,” such as UND’s transition to Division 1 athletics, its conference affiliations and the willingness of other schools to schedule contests with UND teams. “If this is something that’s going to hurt our student athletes and UND, you can count on my steadfast opposition,” he said.
- Rep. Eliot Glassheim, a District 18 Democrat, also expressed concern about consequences of a showdown with the NCAA, such as UND possibly not being allowed to compete in post-season tournaments.
“Like many at UND and in the state, I am annoyed that Standing Rock didn’t allow a public vote on the issue, especially after the Spirit Lake tribe voted 2-1 to allow it,” he said. “However, Standing Rock is a separate political entity and we can’t tell them what to do.
“These bills are pure mischief,” Glassheim said. “Just when we think the issue, which has been so divisive for so long, has been settled in an orderly way, it’s unfortunate that some legislators want to stir the pot. I hope the Legislature as a whole will be more sensible and kill the bill.”
- Rep. Corey Mock, a Democrat representing District 42, said that he has contacted UND President Robert Kelley and Athletic Director Brian Faison and NCAA officials to ask about potential implications of legislative action.
“I have yet to support or oppose the legislation, as the issue is far too complex for quick decision despite my general support of the nickname and logo,” he said. “I ultimately have concerns about the constitutionality of these bills and the impact this may have on the students and university.”
Reach Haga at (701) 780-1102; (800) 477-6572, ext. 102; or send e-mail to email@example.com.