Two western lawmakers say Fargo mayor 'out of line'
Forum Communications BISMARCK Two western North Dakota lawmakers said Friday that Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker's criticisms of the Legislature this week were upsetting and untrue. "He's either very ignorant of the facts or of how the North Dakota L...
BISMARCK Two western North Dakota lawmakers said Friday that Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker's criticisms of the Legislature this week were upsetting and untrue.
"He's either very ignorant of the facts or of how the North Dakota Legislature works," said Rep. Keith Kempenich, R-Bowman. "What the mayor said was really frustrating to me."
Kempenich and Rep. Ron Carlisle, R-Bismarck, are both members of the House Appropriations Committee.
On Thursday, during a State of the Cities panel discussion with business people in Fargo, Walaker intermittently complained about the Legislature over two hours worth of remarks, saying the city's interests weren't being well represented at the Capitol.
"We're going to succeed in spite of the Legislature," the mayor said, also calling current lawmakers "the worst session in 18 years as far as cooperation." He blasted bills that would put caps on how much local governments can raise taxes.
Carlisle and Kempenich said one problem with Walaker's comments was that the session is far from finished and ripping into it at this point is unproductive.
"If our mayor did something like that, I'd ask for a gag order until the end of the session," Carlisle said. "I just thought it was out of line, over the top. Our job is hard enough. We don't need" he finished by tapping a copy of the mayor's comments.
Moments before they asked to be interviewed so they could respond to Walaker's comments in Friday's Forum of Fargo-Moorhead, the two had taken part in their committee's 23-0 vote endorsing the Red River Valley Water Supply Project. They said some committee members commented about Walaker's criticisms before the vote.
It was a bad idea for Walaker to criticize the Legislature "when (Senate Bill) 2345 was still on our calendar," Carlisle said, a reference to the water project.
Walaker said he's not expecting backlash from his comments, which he said were intended to send a message "to those people that could care less about Fargo or the valley" that much of the state's tax revenue comes from the region.
"If they want to cut off the hand that feeds them, things are going to get worse," he said.
Carlisle said Walaker's comments don't make a lot of sense when Fargo has "a fair amount of clout" at the session, including several committee chairmen or co-chairmen, the House majority leader and Appropriations Committee members from Fargo and West Fargo.
The two legislators questioned Walaker's charge that they are not supportive of arts, music and schools.
Kempenich said the House Appropriations Committee on Friday had added $5 million to a bill to begin a major expansion of the state Heritage Center. Neither the governor nor the Senate had proposed giving the project money.
Walaker said his biggest concern, and the primary focus of his comments Thursday, is the proposed budget limitations on cities and counties.
"We have friends and we have people that support us (in the Legislature)," he said. "We also have some people out there who don't understand that we are the economic engine for the state, and we need that to continue, and putting caps on our ability to generate revenue is going to curtail that dramatically."
"All I was saying is basically we need to spend more time with our legislators to inform them of what's really happening," he said.
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