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North Dakota Senate passes Roosevelt library bill after philosophical debate

Theodore Roosevelt is shown here at his Elkhorn Ranch in the North Dakota Badlands. Special to Forum News Service

BISMARCK — North Dakota's Senate has approved a Theodore Roosevelt presidential library at Medora, thus clearing a hurdle for Gov. Doug Burgum's biggest push this legislative session.

Senators on Wednesday, April 17, voted 34-13 on the bill built from amendments brought by Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson.

The governor had proposed using $50 million in Legacy Fund earnings to fund an endowment for the library to be built from $100 million in donations.

But Wardner's amendments use a combination of funds for the endowment, including about $10 million from previously allocated funding for the library and $5 million from the ending balance of the 2017-19 general fund, as well as a Bank of North Dakota loan authorized for $35 million. But no Legacy Fund earnings were included.

The endowment would be for operation and maintenance of the library.

The $100 million to be raised would also send $10 million to Dickinson State University for an endowment for the ongoing digitization project of Roosevelt's papers, as well as $300,000 to Dickinson for previous planning related to the library before its concept moved from Dickinson to Medora.

Twenty-one senators of the 47-member body rose to speak on the proposed library, some quoting the beloved president and wading into philosophical debate on essentially two arguments: that the library is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and that other items, such as various human services, are more pressing.

"Our priorities should be our young people and our senior citizens," said Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford. "This bill does not point to that priority."

Other senators invoked the need to "seize the moment" of the library and what benefits it could bring for tourism and academia, as the governor has highlighted.

"The only time it's going to be before us is right now," said Sen. Terry Wanzek, R-Jamestown, during the hourlong debate.

Some senators voiced opposition to the funding mechanism, disliking the loan or seeing the Legacy Fund earnings as proposed by the governor as more appropriate. But Wardner said the loan may be paid off with Legacy Fund money.

"I don't care how you cut this. This is a legacy project," Wardner said. "It is a legacy project."

The library proposal now goes to the House, where Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, said the bill will get its vote Friday, April 19.

"I want to make sure everybody in the House has a chance to vote," Pollert said.

The library has been a major lobbying point for Gov. Burgum, who has testified twice on his proposal and has hosted legislative receptions with guests such as Theodore Roosevelt V, the 26th president's great-great-grandson.

Burgum has said the library "would be destined to become the No. 1 tourist attraction in the state of North Dakota."

HOW SENATORS VOTED

YEA

Anderson, R-Turtle Lake; Bekkedahl, R-Williston; Burckhard, R-Minot; Davison, R-Fargo; Dever, R-Bismarck; Dotzenrod, D-Wyndmere; Dwyer, R-Bismarck; Erbele, R-Lehr; Grabinger, D-Jamestown; Hogan, D-Fargo; Hogue, R-Minot; Holmberg, R-Grand Forks; Klein, R-Fessenden; Krebsbach, R-Minot; Kreun, R-Grand Forks; Diane Larson, R-Bismarck; Gary Lee, R-Casselton; Judy Lee, R-West Fargo; Lemm, R-Hillsboro; Mathern, D-Fargo; Meyer, R-Grand Forks; Oban, D-Bismarck; Oehlke, R-Devils Lake; Patten, R-Watford City; Piepkorn, D-Fargo; Poolman, R-Bismarck; Robinson, D-Valley City; Jim Roers, R-Fargo; Kristin Roers, R-Fargo; Sorvaag, R-Fargo; Unruh, R-Beulah; Vedaa, R-Velva; Wanzek, R-Jamestown; Wardner, R-Dickinson

NAY

Bakke, D-Grand Forks; Clemens, R-West Fargo; Cook, R-Mandan; Elkin, R-Dickinson; Fors, R-Larimore; Heckaman, D-New Rockford; Kannianen, R-Stanley; Oley Larsen, R-Minot; Luick, R-Fairmount; Marcellais, D-Belcourt; Myrdal, R-Edinburg; Rust, R-Tioga; Schaible, R-Mott

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