THE ONLOOKER: Mid-summer brings new rules for politicians

One of the great things about being a political commentator is that I get to articulate rules about politics and point out rule breakers. Here are three examples for mid-summer 2015. First, remember that experts may be annoying, but they also are...

One of the great things about being a political commentator is that I get to articulate rules about politics and point out rule breakers.

Here are three examples for mid-summer 2015.

First, remember that experts may be annoying, but they also are often right.

Second, if you find yourself in a hole, drop the shovel and quit digging.

And third, if it hurts, look for healing.


  • The first of these is a response to events of March 18, 2015. On that day, Dan White, an analyst with Moody's Analytics, told members of the North Dakota House and Senate appropriations committees that the state could withstand a decline in oil prices.

True, he conceded, the state's revenue from oil taxes might go down, but it would be made up by increases in other taxes, on income and sales from the continuing construction boom throughout the state.
White's presentation was greeted rudely, even derisively, by some legislators. They foresaw economic disaster for the state as oil prices declined. Their point of view helped frame the tight-fistedness that characterized many decisions in the closing days of the session.

And White did, in fact, turn out to be wrong.

He was too pessimistic.

White had imagined that the so-called "big trigger" would kick in, substantially cutting revenues from oil taxes. But the average price of oil stayed above $55 a barrel, so the trigger didn't kick in. The state found itself awash in cash-though not until after the legislative session adjourned.

White's prescience was underlined last week when the Williston Herald reported that a construction boom had provided jobs to replace those lost in the oil field.

Just as White suggested, a decline in oil prices did mean a cut in production and a loss of jobs in the oil field.

But North Dakota soaked up these workers as communities and contractors rushed to catch up with the boom, just as White predicted.

The state's own decision to push money-$1.1 billion-toward projects in the Oil Patch helped ease the pain of declining oil prices. White anticipated that, too.


In the end, the fright lawmakers put into themselves meant less money for many programs, education among them-not less money than in the past, but less money than the governor had budgeted.

This isn't altogether a bad thing, of course.

Still, North Dakota's pre-eminent challenge is to find ways to spend the billions that have accumulated in the state treasury. The sky is not falling. Rather, it is pouring abundance on the state, and North Dakota needs to cultivate the largesse-to the benefit of every North Dakotan.

  • The second of this week's rules is aimed at Dwight Kiefert of Valley City, a Republican. He's the state representative who objected to hearing a Muslim pray in the House chambers on Ash Wednesday.

The depth of his prejudice was apparent only last week, however, when he reacted to the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing gay marriage. Homisexuals-his spelling-may be metally ill-his spelling again-Kiefert told his Facebook followers.
Challenged by Rob Port on Port's Say Anything blog and essentially disowned by Republican Party leaders, Kiefert appealed for understanding. He wrote that he hoped people would accept him for who he is.

This amounted to digging a deeper hole.

In a letter to the editor of the state's daily newspapers, a gay man wondered whether Kiefert would extend the same understanding to homosexual couples.

Pretty likely Kiefert has written his own political obituary.

Among North Dakota's second-tier cities, Valley City is by far the most Democratic. The other members of its three-member delegation are both Democrats. One is Sen. Larry Robinson, widely regarded as "the gentleman of the Senate." Kiefert won election in 2012, a heavily Republican year. His margin was 52 votes.


Not comfortable, probably.

  • Then there's the rule about hurt and healing.

This applies to U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, who will have a hip replaced during the Senate's August recess.
Heitkamp's pain has been apparent for many months, and it's fueled speculation that she might decide to come home to run for governor rather than continuing in the U.S. Senate.

Two of the women in my life have had hip surgery. One of the cats tripped Suezette three years ago. She fell and broke her hip. Today she's pain free and feisty, I'm happy to report.

At age 83, my mother announced that she intended to have both hips replaced, though not at the same time, of course.. I argued against it, even mentioning her age. She went ahead anyway. The hip replacements may not have extended her life-though she lived to age 93-but they certainly made her life better.

So the rule is-the best rule, maybe-when it hurts, heal yourself.

May the healing spirits be with you, Sen. Heitkamp, as they have been with so many others in these circumstances.

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