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Lloyd Omdahl: Time to go beyond partisanship

Because we are human, I can guess that just about everyone in the Legislature or Congress has some embarrassing incident in his/her past.

Lloyd Omdahl, use online, horizontal.jpg
Lloyd Omdahl
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Well, we’re at it again. It seems that in the case of Sen. Ray Homberg many are rushing to judgment without knowing the circumstances of his sin.

According to former students, Ray Holmberg was an excellent Grand Forks teacher. In addition to teaching, he served the state of North Dakota in the Senate for 44 years.

He was no ordinary senator. He took the challenge seriously and made every effort to put together a biennial budget that was fair to all parts of the state.

No one powerful

He had considerable influence on legislation, but it would be an error to call his chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee as “powerful” because no one in North Dakota state government is allowed to be powerful. It takes tedious consensus building bigtime.

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In North Dakota, consensus building is hard. Sometimes, even impossible. Success depends on bringing together dozens of private and public entities, and requires extra hours and days of effort. This meant appeasement and compromise, skills that many legislators lack but Holmberg had.

So after an illustrious civic life, Holmberg is going to burn at the stake. As a political scientist, I am concerned over the poisoning of the public well. More concerned about that than the politics involved.

Poison environment

Embarrassing sins are always dredged up, usually out of context. This kind of treatment discourages a willingness of citizens to be a part of the process. In Bismarck and Washington, legislators are quitting because of the poisonous environment.

This happened to Sen. Al Franken (2009-2018) in Minnesota. A Harvard graduate who served in the U.S. Senate, he had been a writer for “Saturday Night Live” and did stand-up comedy. In that role and at that time, he did or said something that was not appropriate.

The flap forced him to leave the Senate after nine years of stellar performance. Apparently, it is dangerous to go into politics after being a successful comedian. A lot of humor is offending. Some of his accusers have wished him back.

Everyone has hidden sin

Because we are human, I can guess that just about everyone in the Legislature or Congress has some embarrassing incident in his/her past. I have a couple. But that is also true about the electorate. Politicians are real people with real weaknesses, just like the rest of us, but we don't give them any space.

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We are in an era when government is evil and everyone in government is a crook or reprobate of some kind. Donald Trump’s rhetoric hasn’t helped.

Not only has he polarized society, but he commits assault daily, threatening everyone who stands up to him. Over the long run, a democracy cannot sustain this anti-government drift. The mood he created has been absorbed by innumerable followers who are ready to overthrow the government, as the January 6 debacle proved.

Rising above party

On some occasions, we must rise beyond party and the partisan fray. Our history is cluttered with examples of political crucifixions. It will continue but it must be kept at a civil level. Polls show that political bitterness between the parties has escalated in the last decade. Some believe we are headed for a civil war.

Before Holmberg resigned and the scandal broke, just about every Republican in North Dakota praised his 44 years of effort on behalf of North Dakota and Grand Forks. Only time will tell whether or not they will consider his illustrious track record when rendering judgment.

I have a difficult time believing that we should sweep this 44-year Senate career unless it is some major chronic fault. It is common coin to believe that the punishment should fit the crime. Let us see the crime before we mete out punishment.

Lloyd Omdahl is a former state lieutenant governor and professor at UND.

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