Governor: North Dakota must do things 'better, cheaper and faster'

Editor's note: Earlier this month, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum visited the Herald and sat for an interview with the newspaper's editorial board. Today, we're presenting Part 1 of a two-part transcript of the highlights of the interview. Part 2 ...

Doug Burgum gets a briefing on the Cardinal IG plant Friday, May 27, 2016, in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
Doug Burgum gets a briefing on the Cardinal IG plant Friday, May 27, 2016, in Fargo. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor

Editor's note: Earlier this month, North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum visited the Herald and sat for an interview with the newspaper's editorial board. Today, we're presenting Part 1 of a two-part transcript of the highlights of the interview. Part 2 will be presented on tomorrow's editorial page.

The interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.

□ □ □

Q. Now that the legislative session is over, how well would you say your governorship is proceeding? And what's the difference between being a governor-who must work with a Legislature-and leading a corporation? Where does consensus building fit in?

Relative to where we were at the start of the session, I think we're in a great place. If you remember where we were back then, there were 5,000 people either camping or coming into southern Morton County. Now, 76 days later, we have the camps cleared of people, and we've removed more than 24 thousand tons of debris.


So the Dakota Access Pipeline protests were a big focus.

Simultaneously, we hired new cabinet heads and put together virtually an entirely new governor's staff.

And one of the major objectives that we ran on was to reduce government spending, and to do it in a way that's not damaging to things that are important. To be able to take $1.7 billion out of a $6 billion budget was a monumental task; it now has been accomplished with the help of the Legislature.

Meanwhile, we increased funding for K-12, maintained the principal of the Legacy Fund, continued to fund important water projects and continued to invest in Grand Sky.

As for your question about corporate versus government leadership, there is so much in popular culture about what it's like to be a CEO, and the job often is portrayed as top-down autocratic. But my entire career has been in the tech business, and like the newspaper industry, tech is an intellectual property business.

You've got talent, you've got writers, you've got software developers who can walk out the door and go to work for somebody else the next day. And so in all of the businesses I've been involved with, there has always been consensus building. From that standpoint, there is no change.

Q. Are you confident that the Dakota Access pipeline is secure?

We already have pipelines crossing the Missouri River, including one right north of Bismarck.


Furthermore, in the United States, there are 38,000 crossing of bodies of water by oil-and-gas pipelines.

It's a huge issue, and like a a lot of things in our country, there is a lot of aging infrastructure. That includes pipelines that are on or just beneath the bottom of the river, lake or stream..

So I'm confident that the DAPL is the best crossing that we have because it's the deepest. It's drilled 93 feet below the river.

We have had pipeline leaks in North Dakota, including in the past 12 months. But these have been pipelines that were shallowly put in in places like the Badlands, where you have slumping and ground movement. Furthermore, the "early detection system" that's often in place is this one: "The rancher sees it."

Now the leaks can be detected by technology that's built into the pipe itself. Or, they can be spotted by aerial inspections-surveys that part of the growing demand for drones.

We just have to keep doing a better job.

Q. In the Legislature, Herald columnist Mike Jacobs noticed a surprising resentment against higher education, including among even centrist Republicans.

Why is that happening, and what's your vision for higher education in the state?


Higher education is in the beginning of a new phase. And when you transition from an era that has lasted hundreds of years, toward a new one marked by new assumptions, it can be a bumpy ride.

But understand, the root cause of the change is not North Dakota's financial situation. In fact, we continue to be among the very top in how we support higher ed on a per capita basis.

The issue is that higher education is in the middle of a big transition, because knowledge transfer now can occur anytime and any place to anyone who has a smartphone.

And we have to understand that this is going to cannibalize some of what universities have done in the past. Not cutting-edge research and not hands-on activities such as flight training, but basic core instructional material. More and more, people feel they can get it better, cheaper and faster than through a residential four-year program.

Consider computer science. People can get a four-year degree in computer science, pile up debt in doing so and spend lots of time learning how computers are built.

But we don't need that kind of specialist; we need software engineers. Specifically, we need software engineers who know how to build applications that work on mobile devices.

And if a kid can go to a 20-week coding school and get a $70,000 coding job, versus going to a four-year program in computer science and getting that same $70,000 job, then even if that person hasn't taken an econ class, he or she is likely to be smart enough to figure out which of those is the better deal.

Q. Are you confident that in eight years, North Dakota will have the same number of colleges and universities as it does today?


Changing the constitution could be a bridge too far for anyone. But I do think that economics will continue to put pressure on how we deliver education, as I was describing.

So, if we constitutionally have those locations locked in, then we'd better be thinking hard about what that means in terms of delivery points.

After all, we live in a world where knowledge transfer can occur anyplace, anytime and on any device. And in a rural state in which the ratio of mobile devices to people is probably 1:1, we have the ability to distribute information to everyone on a platform that did not exist 10 years ago.

But then we want to cling to this idea from statehood that we need to go to a specific location to have knowledge transfer.

What I'm really saying is that if state government to you is the economic development that occurs via creating local jobs at permanent state institutions, then I think you have to step back.

I get why local legislators and communities would fight to keep that state employer or that state institution there. But on a macro basis, it doesn't make any sense when we can deliver the highest quality education at a much lower price.

Q. Are there any state programs that are responding well to this technological change?

I think the biggest policy change in innovation and long-term effect on North Dakota is what happened in the "justice reinvestment" efforts-the whole approach to what are we doing with our corrections resources and how are thinking about addiction.


In the nation, we've spent the past 40 years thinking about the War on Drugs, which is really a war on addicts. And we've been treating addicts like criminals as opposed to treating them like people who have an addiction disease.

So, we imprison people at $41,000 a year, and it's not curative. Furthermore, we take people who have committed low-level, non-criminal offenses, we call those people felons and we take them out of the workforce, out of the housing market and away from their families.

That was the old approach, and I'm glad that it's being changed.

Opinion by Thomas Dennis
What To Read Next
Get Local