Category Archives: Politics

Make a real difference; run for office

“Honey, you should run for the school board and fix that mess!”

“Martha, instead of griping about the issues, why not just run for office yourself?”

“Hey, Joe, some of th’ guys were talkin’ and think you’d make a good candidate for the legislature.”

As a student senator in college, we’d sit in the student union over an Old Style (maybe more than one) and figure out which city council member or county board member was going to retire. Then we’d crank up the campaign machine to get one of our better looking student friends elected. Sometimes it worked. That was pre-social media and pre-internet, and pre-stone age. Campaign stone-flyers, the original tablets, were dragged from cave to cave via woolly mammoth. Lol.

Recently, the Williston Herald ran a story on the offices up for grabs this year. (In the digital world, they call that ‘click bait). The basic process of running for local office (town, school district, city, park board, county) is fairly straight forward. Get the proper number of signatures for the proper office, and get on the ballot. And it’s free. That’s kind of cool, actually. I’ve known 18 year old mayors, 22 year old state legislators, and 30 year old congressmen. There aren’t too many barriers to getting on the ballot, save for a felony maybe.

Incorporating your true political sagacity, there are practicalities you should consider, like, you know, life. Can you devote enough time to do what is required to properly represent your interests or district? Are there issues you are more interested in than others? Is there an open seat, or how many votes or dollars will it take to win?

Although it might be fun; generating tweets, comments, shares and likes via social media doesn’t really count as making a difference.

For what it’s worth, there’s really only one consideration that outweighs all the others:

Do you want to make a real difference?


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Right direction or wrong track?

There is one question political pollsters prefer over any other when trying to gauge voters’ feelings about a candidate:

“Is the country [state, city, school district, etc] headed in the right direction or on the wrong track?”

This is in part due to the vagueness of the question, and partially because people generally pick one or the other and there isn’t a middle choiImage result for political pollsce. Using a subjective numerical scale to determine how much a voter likes a candidate, or how likely a voter may or may not cast his or her vote for a particular candidate is much tougher. “On a scale of one to ten, would you say you are VERY likely, SORT OF likely, KIND OF likely, MOST likely to vote for…? I’ll pick 4, 5, 6 almost every time. Those answers don’t do squat for statisticians and pundits.

I’m pretty good about answering any polls or surveys when asked, because I used to do political polling and phone calls back in my early political days.  Any good college political science student raises his or her hand to help on local campaigns.  “Campaign Assistant” sounds so cool on a young, hungry poli-sci resume. That is until you realize the job is making blind calls from 5:00 pm to 9:00 pm  for some schmucky dog catcher candidate you will never meet. No selfies in those days. You might get a button, a signed brochure, and a free meal on election night.

So let’s bring this thought to our business community in Williston and Western North Dakota, and ask again: From a business, economic and jobs standpoint; are we headed in the right direction, or are we on the wrong track? It might depend on which level of government to which you refer.

Image result for bureaucracyI’ve written before about how our federal rulemakers (not lawmakers) have been ‘helping’ small businesses the past few years; and how they’ve unleashed a series of administrative rules which if fully implemented, will stifle growth and cost the United States thousands of jobs. The “unelected government” comprised of appointed cabinet level officials, under deputy assistants to the secretary, and a plethora of bureaucratic spinsters spew out thousands of new administrative rules and interpretations of laws that not only hinder free markets, but clamp down on the American dream.

Pro-business lawmakers can only do so much during a term before it’s time for another election. Make no mistake, if the current federal regulatory environment continues, it won’t just be the price of a barrel of oil that muffles our economic growth potential in western North Dakota. It will be our own federal government. We need to recognize that the free enterprise system might not be perfect, but that same system also has built this country into a political and economic super power.

Good thing for businesses we have some choices in 2016. Let’s make the right ones.

Sidebar: Thanks to State Senator Brad Bekkedahl, North Dakota Public Service Commission Chair Julie Fedorchak, and North Dakota Department of Commerce Commissioner Al Anderson for making our first attempt at the “Eggs & Issues” policy forums a smashing success. We’ll be planning three more in the spring so watch for them. Maybe we’ll even have some eggs.

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First impressions, second thoughts, and the third degree

As a tribute to one of my all time favorite sports writers back in Wisconsin, Andy Baggot, I offer my first impressions, second thoughts, and the third degree this week on a variety of issues.

First impressions of our first ever Eggs & Issues Policy Forum last Friday was WOW. Held at the Williston Area Recreation Center (ARC) at 7:30 a.m. following our Business After Hours the previous evening, I was a bit anxious about the turnout and response. To my delight, I counted more than 40 Chamber Members and business leaders in the room interacting with State Senator Brad Bekkedahl on a variety of state and regional issues.

We made the E&I event a ‘members only‘ exclusive for a reason. To provide increased value for your membership investment. Obviously it worked.Eggs and Issues logo Next month we’ll host North Dakota Public Service Commission Chair Julie Fedorchak on October 9. Julie has deep roots in Williston and Western North Dakota, and I’m grateful for her to take a couple of days from her work in Bismarck and be with us. Thanks to Enbridge for sponsoring last week’s E&I and to the GLEN Investment Group for stepping up and partnering with us for the Oct 9 forum. We couldn’t bring this type of program to the membership without great Chamber partners.

On second thought, maybe Williston had too many options this summer for activities and choices to spend our discretionary time and dollars. That could explain why some recent events have been thinly attended, or fallen short of expectations. I’ve was told ‘there’s nothing to do’ in Williston. From the looks of the numbers of events, concerts, free community events and variety of entertainment, business-sponsored seminars, nonprofit fun runs, educational opportunities, organizations to join, etc. there seems to be quite a few choices for residents and families to spend their time and entertainment dollars. Don’t always blame the ‘slowdown’ for lack of interest or participation at local events. It might just be that there are choices today that were absent in previous years.

I’ve learned a couple of things about Williston in eighteen months. It takes a while for a new event or concept to catch on, and secondly, the numbers of choices of events, concerts, and gatherings is a good thing. Community diversity is also part of our transition, and discretionary dollar spending will bear that out over time.

My third degree this week goes to The National Labor Relations Board and their decision to redefine the independent contractor role and the definition of employer-employee. I’ve written about this previously, but upon further review, the ruling on the Browning-Ferris case stinks even more. All businesses from builders to restaurants to franchise owners could be in for a bumpy road if this ruling doesn’t get overturned by federal legislation or in a federal court; either avenue will take years. In the meantime, the ruling is now federal law and the US Chamber of Commerce and others are scrambling to inform employers, local and state chambers and franchise owners of this onerous regulatory crap. As of this moment, two federal bills have been introduced that would reverse this ruling. But we all know how legislation moves in Washington lately, so the fight continues.

And while I don’t believe that this is necessarily the easiest task, one GOP Presidential Candidate, Scott Walker, said he would eliminate the NLRB on day one of his presidency. Again, that’s a great sound bite for those fighting against the federal government’s version of the NCAA, but there’s one tiny detail Governor Walker overlooked.

He needs to actually have a ‘day one’ of his presidency.

Today’s photos…

I ventured to Lund’s Landing over the weekend, a place like no other. A cute little hideaway on Lake Sakakawea owned by Jim and Analene Torgerson for the past 27 years. Fantastic walleye sandwich and of course, juneberry pie. Definitely worth a stop while you are out and about.

Lunds Landing Lunds Landing 1

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Regulatory handcuffs continue to stifle business growth

An oft-quoted Ronald Reagan line from an address during his second administration goes like this:

The nine most terrifying words in the English language are

“I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

                   — Ronald Reagan, Aug. 12, 1986

While the late President had a way with Hollywood one-liners that would garner a chuckle in a room of media types, no one laughed this time. And today, the US Chamber of Commerce and the business community in America isn’t laughing either.

Recently our federal government has been on a roll, and we all know what rolls downhill. The business sector, large and small, corporations and Mom and Pops are feeling the effects of all the “help” Uncle Sam has tried to feed us as the current Administration comes to a close. Here are just a few:

  • The Environment Protection Agency‘s proposed new ozone rules will be the most expensive in history for businesses to comply with, the cost of that compliance will no doubt be passed on to consumers.
  • The Department of Labor has proposed a new fiduciary rule that will significantly hurt the ability of many Americans to save for retirement, and potentially even completely cut them off from receiving investment advice. The proposed rule will also impose complex regulatory hurdles on financial advisors that would require significant, costly changes to their business models.
  • And just this past Thursday, the National Labor Relations Board (an unelected five person regulatory panel)  handed down one of its biggest decisions of President Obama’s tenure, ruling that companies can be held responsible for labor violations committed by their contractors. While the ruling from the independent agency specifically deals with the waste management firm Browning-Ferris, the so-called “joint employer” decision could have broad repercussions for the business world, particularly for franchise companies.
    Opponents of the action warn the ruling could hurt businesses as diverse as restaurants, retailers, manufacturers and construction firms, as well as hotels, cleaning services and staffing agencies. Restaurants could see the biggest changes. Fast food chains such as McDonald’s and Burger King will likely assert more authority over — or even cut ties altogether with — local franchise owners, business advocates say.

Let’s not forget our legislative and administrative branches that have failed to pass a long term transportation funding structure, failed to renew the Export-Import Bank, did not approve the Keystone XL pipeline project, and continues to ban the export of U.S. crude oil.Image result for regulatory handcuffs

I’m not sure how much more government help the US economy can stand! We’ve become the land of the free and the home of the regulated.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m all for adequate and reasonable regulations in our society. But when the economy continues to sputter in nearly all sectors, why does passing and enforcing more regulations count as good for business? America’s business owners, retail shops, service industries, corporations and farmers are fully capable of complying with rules, even those that may be a bit over reaching.

Now if only the federal government (state and local, too) would just stop changing the rules all the time. Regulatory reform and regulatory certainty is sorely needed in our economy as much for the consumers as the businesses themselves.

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Sigh, is it really election season already?

Don’t look now, but it’s already campaign season. Remember when Labor Day weekend was the official kick off to the campaigns, during the actual election year? When did it become an 18-24 month process to campaign for office?

North Dakota voters will decide no less than eleven (11) statewide offices in 2016, and at least one statewide measure. ELEVEN!!! From President, Vice President, Governor, Lt. Governor; to US Senate, US Representative (ND has one US House seat, so by default, it’s a statewide race). Then you can vote for State Treasurer, Superintendent of Public Instruction, Insurance Commissioner and Tax Commissioner. Holy hanging chads, Batman!

We’ve now seen twenty (20) declared Republican presidential candidates and six more have exploratory committees, while on the Democrat side of the aisle nine (9) candidates have declared their desire to live on Pennsylvania Avenue in our nation’s Capitol City. That means it will be virtually impossible to escape any campaign messaging, no matter how you get your news and information.

You can thank the the kajillion news channels and quadzillion internet options for candidates to get their message out – all which require billions of dollars. The media LOVES this idea of candidates spending your donations on more ‘impressions’ and ‘likes.’ For whether you actually write a check to a candidate, go online and like a MEME of Governor Chris Christie (there’s quite a few good ones btw), or buy a home, the campaigns are actually spending your money.

Let’s take a look where most Presidential campaign donations are generated. According to, more than $1.2 billion was spent by Obama and Romney campaigns (for a job that pays $450,000). If you look closely at all of the top donors, most of them are companies, Political Action Committees, and bundlers. There were no federal dollars used in the 2012 Presidential campaign.

Here’s the bombshell: It’s all yours. All of the money used, with the exception of President Obama’s $5,000 and Mitt Romney’s $52,000 personal contributions, was yours. Did you buy a computer in 2010-2012? Microsoft contributed more than $800K to the Obama campaign. Oh what’s that you say? You didn’t vote for him? But your money did…

Do you bank at or have investments with Wells Fargo or Bank of America by chance? Combined, they wrote checks to the Romney campaign for about $1.7 million. But you voted for President Obama? Bummer, eh? Your money supported the loser.

Did you buy a new home in 2011? Did you know the realtors organizations and lobby groups gave more than $15 million to Romney and more than $7 million to Obama for the 2012 campaigns? Yikes.

My point is no matter what you buy, which organizations you belong to, or who you support; we ALL are contributors to political office candidates in one form or another. So you can’t really prevent your money from being spent on a political campaign, unless you live in a van down by the river. Here’s my suggestion for 2016: how about becoming an informed voter?

Our Chamber’s first strategic pillar states:

Strengthen the influence and reputation of the Chamber through bold and thoughtful advocacy and public policy initiatives.

Through voter education, issue identification, candidate forums, the Chamber will help our Members and the community be more informed as the election nears. So while you can’t ultimately prevent all of your disposable income from finding its way to someone’s campaign coffers, at least you can learn about the issues that matter most to you, your family, and your business.

Then make an informed decision about your vote. You only get one.

Use it wisely.


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Elected officials, parking rules, emerging economy and other random thoughts

Remember when writing a 250 word essay in school was torture? Yeah. That wasn’t me. Really? 250 is all we get? Dang, how am I going to fit what’sImage result for essay in my head to only 250 words? Well through the power of the blog, I can now fill up three times that amount with no restrictions. Except your attention span. Which is already 70 words in…

First impressions, second thoughts, and the third degree…
(a tribute to one of my Madison-based sportswriter heroes, Andy Baggot)

My first impressions of our State Legislative the last 80 some days range from puzzling, to interesting, to frustrated, to grateful. My background of state politics is fraught with filibusters, procedural roadblocks and power hungry legislators who use their committee positions to further the party’s agenda. While the actual structure of the North Dakota Legislature is curious (so many legislators representing so few residents) and the process is a bit outdated (meeting 80 days every other year), I did find the people part of the experience most enjoyable. In my opinion, the biggest challenge facing North Dakotans isn’t the price of a barrel of oil. Rather it will be whether the very real NDEast vs NDWest divide will grow wider, or whether we can build some political and economic bridges to benefit residents and businesses in the long run.

It appears the City Commission has second thoughts about enforcing the newly created parking ordinances. These laws were not passed in haste, nor treated lightly. More money and time was spent designing a solution between the past (everything should be free) and costly state of the art, electronic metering. It appears the new ordinances will be enforced after Main Street construction improvements are completed. Last year the streets were in shambles from July through November. Word is now they will start in May and be done at the end of July. We’ll keep an eye on that for sure..

Today my third degree drills (pun intended) down into the main stream media, social blogosphere and anyone else who tries to “report” or “cover” the economy in Northwest North Dakota.

  • The “boom” tag is no longer valid. You can stop using the term boomtown in present tense. Using it in a headline or tagline to snare readership or in the case of the Smithsonian Channel, viewership – is nothing more than sensationalism. Ditto goes for using the word “bust.”
  • Image result for captain obviousNewsflash from Captain Obvious: In a city of 35,000, there is crime – no matter where that city is located, and it’s not confined to an oil town in North Dakota. Continually pounding on the negative is getting old, and actually does a disservice to the business owners and residents.
  • Don’t ask a city official if things have slowed down now that we’re in a bust economy. Hey Chicago reporter: get your backside out here for a week. Then ask if there is any slowdown here. How many cities of 35,000 can open five new restaurants in four months of a so-called slowdown? Please.
  • Lastly – do your research before you hit publish. Get out here. Talk to business owners, city officials, major companies. You’ll soon find out that while the echoes of ‘boom’ have faded into the badlands, the crunch and grinding and diesel engines you hear is the City being moved by another economy…an emerging economy.

I wasn’t going to use the blog to rant, but it’s hard to refrain sometimes.

The transition from boomtown to hometown continues. Stay tuned for the next few seasons to see what happens.

 – Sjm


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Making laws is NOTHING like making sausage…maybe

We’ve heard the quote so many times, but do you know who first coined the famous political policy making phrase? And can you quote it exactly?

Laws are like sausages, it is better not to see them being made.

 – Otto von Bismarck

Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1990-023-06A, Otto von Bismarck.jpgSo who was Otto von Bismarck? According to my research staff Wiki P. Edia (tongue in cheek), here’s the official entry: Prince Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck, Duke of Lauenburg (1 April 1815 – 30 July 1898), was a German aristocrat and statesman, the Prime Minister of Prussia (1862–1890), and the first Chancellor of Germany (1871–1890). Nicknamed the Iron Chancellor he is noted for his laconic remarks.

The Iron Chancellor also has a connection to our state. In 1872, the North Dakota state capitol was named Edwinton, after Edwin Ferry Johnson engineer-in-chief for the Northern Pacific Railway.  But it wasn’t too long before some folks wised up, or in other words, sucked up. Just one year later in 1873, however, the Northern Pacific Railway itself renamed the city Bismarck, to recognize the renowned German chancellor in hopes of attracting German investment.

So it is quite apropos that it was Otto himself who has been attributed to this famous laws/sausage quote. The man after which our Capitol City is named. Especially during this highly energized legislative session.

With 141 moving parts and a couple of administration controlled handles, this legislature certainly takes on the characteristics of a sausage grinder. On Feb. 11, the Chamber chartered a bus of Willistonians (my made up word) to Bismarck to see if in fact laws are as hideous to watch being made as a Johnsonville bratwurst.

Let’s compare:

Federal sausage making is even uglier than state level sausage

Initial ingredients:
Laws=beginning ideas and first bill drafts
Sausage=raw ingredients

Mixing process:
Laws=Committee hearing process,input from public, debate, amendments
Sausage=spices, additives, fillers

Grinding process:
Laws=floor debate and action, sometimes messy process
Sausage=all final ingredients mixed together

Finished product:
Laws=something that won’t make everyone 100% satisfied (it’s called compromise)
Sausage=something that not everyone will enjoy, but will still sell

Our State Legislature recently passed Senate Bill 2103, the surge funding bill that provides immediate funding to local governments in Western North Dakota to catch up with the ‘surge’ of people moving there. The bill, seemingly supported by everyone including the Governor, was quickly passed through the Senate. However when it got to the House side,which should have been the final casing and flavoring for the bill, the law-making grinder hit a bone and got stuck.

Questions were asked of local officials, ‘do you really need the money now that oil prices have dropped?’ ‘What do you need now, that can’t wait until oil prices increase?’ ‘Every part of the state could use extra infrastructure funds.’

Other ingredients are being thrown into the mix from state agencies and other areas of the state; all looking to add that one last spice before it goes to the final grinding. Once the gear jam had been cleared, and these last few ingredients added in to the House version, the finished product rolled out of the process on Friday, and awaits the Governor’s signature as we post this. And yes, the finished product isn’t exactly how drafters first envisioned, but in a politically charged, east vs west type of debate, it was the best outcome possible.

As Otto pointed out:

Politics is the art of the next best

The merits of the legislation aside, the legislative process is not for the faint of heart, and can even frustrate a veteran participant. I suspect working in Sheboygan, Wis. making Johnsonville brats might be easier as the formula never changes, and neither does the process. In law making, the ingredients, the players, and even the process can alter the finished product.

The Chamber of Commerce is just part of the law/sausage making process, but we think the ingredients we bring to the process make everything taste just a little better.


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