Editorial: Condemn Carlson's effort to force land deal
"Boringly honest." That's how the State Historical Society's editor described North Dakota politics in 2008. The words echoed Lloyd Omdahl's conclusion from "Governing North Dakota," the classic guide to state government that he edited through th...
"Boringly honest." That's how the State Historical Society's editor described North Dakota politics in 2008.
The words echoed Lloyd Omdahl's conclusion from "Governing North Dakota," the classic guide to state government that he edited through the early 2000s:
"Abuses in lobbying do occur, although most observers agree that they are relatively rare in North Dakota," Omdahl wrote. And corruption, he suggested, essentially is "unheard of around the North Dakota Legislature."
But for the next edition of "Governing North Dakota" (it's still being published by the State Historical Society of North Dakota), the current editors might want to strike Omdahl's upbeat words.
Because they're hard to square with what happened in the final weeks of the legislative session-an episode that state Rep. Pam Anderson, D-Fargo, called the worst-ever "good old boy stuff" that she'd ever seen.
The fact that Anderson was talking about her fellow District 41 representative, House Majority Leader Al Carlson, makes her words all the more remarkable.
But she's got a point, because Carlson's conduct in this case has to be seen to be believed.
Here's the story in a nutshell:
Through an amendment he handed to a conference committee, Carlson tried to pressure North Dakota State University into trading land with a developer, possibly for millions of dollars under the NDSU land's appraised value.
More details are below. But the key words in the above summary include these: conference committee.
Because a conference committee, as readers will know from civics class, is a bill's last stop before passage. It's where conflicting versions that have passed the House and Senate get reconciled.
And that means new text typically comes with no hearings, no testimony and no public input of any kind.
Majority Leader Carlson has power, and when he slaps an amendment down on a conference committee table, he expects action. But when that amendment would force negotiation of a transaction that seems sure to profit a developer at the state's expense, then Carlson's action is an abuse of power. Thank goodness the amendment was exposed and ultimately withdrawn.
NDSU's land in Fargo sits just west of I-29 at the corner of 19th Avenue North. Developer Kjos Investments was offering cash plus a land swap, acting as agent for the owner of an adjacent but less-valuable tract.
A lot less valuable, in that a recent appraisal valued the prime NDSU land at $12.6 million, while the adjacent tract had been valued at $4.33 million.
Carlson's amendment would have forced NDSU to negotiate. Earlier drafts actually dictated the terms: "a land exchange plus Kjos giving NDSU $2.5 million cash and an additional $200,000 annually for five years," Forum Communications' Mike McFeely reported.
Let's see: $7.83 million in land and cash, in exchange for property valued at $12.6 million ...
"Good old boy stuff" is right. North Dakotans should be angry, Lloyd Omdahl should feel aggrieved. And Al Carlson should be ashamed.
-- Tom Dennis for the Herald