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Commentary: Governor Burgum shouldn't be selling sponsorships for official duties

In this file photo, Doug Burgum makes a victory speech in the Republican primary for North Dakota governor Tuesday, June 14, 2016, at Ecce Gallery in downtown Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum News Service1 / 2
columnist Rob Port2 / 2

Later this month Gov. Doug Burgum will be delivering a "state of the state address" at Minot State University.

It's an event unprecedented in North Dakota history — in ways both good and bad.

State law requires a gubernatorial "state of the state" address to the Legislature's regular biannual sessions, much as the president is required to make a similar report to Congress annually.

Burgum delivered the first such address of his term last year.

What's not required by law in North Dakota is an address during years between legislative sessions, though such events aren't without precedent. Former Gov. Ed Schafer used to deliver an update on the state of the state from the capitol in Bismarck during non-session years.

That Burgum would, too, is a positive in my mind. It's hard to imagine any public servant going wrong by emulating Schafer. Plus, more communication from our leaders is generally a good thing.

Burgum bringing this sort of event out of Bismarck to another part of the state is also a positive.

I hope both things become traditions for future governors.

But Burgum has done something I hope doesn't become a tradition. He's allowing the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce to sponsor his address in Minot.

What's more, the Chamber is now selling access to the speech to their members. An email from a member of the Chamber's staff forwarded to me by a dubious Republican lawmaker contains a pitch for two reserved seats at Burgum's speech, plus access to a reception after, for $2,500.

On the governor's official state website, the event, which will take place in a public building on a public campus, is advertised as being "free and open to the public" but warns that "seating is limited."

Limited, perhaps, because some of the seating is being sold alongside access to Burgum for big money?

Burgum campaigned for governor with a promise to reinvent government. Does that reinvention mean turning a speech branded as an official act of the office into a de facto fundraising event for a private political entity?

Are we to have sponsorship of all official state events now?

A press conference brought to you by Coca-Cola?

The Department of Motor Vehicles brought to you by Ford?

Give Burgum credit for bringing back Schafer's practice of interim state of the state addresses, and give him more credit for bringing the address out of Bismarck, but this sponsorship deal is a terrible idea which ought to be rescinded immediately.

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