District 14 Dem-NPL Q and A
With the primary election over, Tribune Reporter Bryce Berginski sat down Wednesday with Mark Nelson, Bonita Lindseth and Dave Anderson, who are challenging incumbent District 14 legislators Sen. Jerry Klein and Reps. Jon Nelson and Terry Weisz in the November election.
Why are you running for District 14 offices?
BL: I have not been pleased with the way things have been going in Bismarck. I think we need some new ideas, I think we need more fiscal responsibility, and it was a time in my life where now I have the time to devote to both the campaign and the issues if I would get elected.
DA: I pretty much say the same thing, other than I was approached by a number of people and I’m sure Bonita was too to run on the Democratic ticket. We wanted a choice there for the people and, like Bonita said, at this point in my life I’m retired and have the time and energy, hopefully to contribute to those programs.
MN: I’m running because the state of North Dakota has completely lost touch with its people. There’s been so much change the last few years, some of it’s been good but a lot of it’s been bad, and we’ve just lost ownership of our state. This is not really a Republican dominated state, it’s an ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council)-dominated state. They concentrate on Republicans, and what they do-we don’t have any professionals in the Legislature because the Legislature doesn’t pay enough money, no one’s using their legislative salaries to keep a full-time office with a secretary or any staff in it, we’re just all amateurs. So when you’re a Republican what they do is they come to you and say, “Hey, come to this educational seminar.” And it will be at this world-class resort with a hotel nicer than anything in North Dakota. They’ll say, “Well it’s gonna cost you $1,500, but we’ll give you a scholarship”-that’s not a campaign contribution, it doesn’t have to be reported and it’s not income either. You do the math there. And then they let you bring your wife and all your kids and you get that fabulous vacation that you couldn’t possibly afford on your own. In return you put in a few hours being indoctrinated, and they’ll sit down and show you how to write legislation. And you’ll get done with a bill that gonna do what ALEC wants to do, and what they want is a state with no regulation and very low wages, because they decided that’s the way to prosperity-it is for them and it isn’t for us. And you put that bill in your pocket and when the Legislature’s in session again you bring it out like it’s your own brilliant idea, and this is what has happened to our state. This is a big change election. Marvin Nelson is the change candidate, and we’re here to help him. There’s not enough Democrat-NPL members in the state Legislature. If you’re gonna vote for Doug Burgum you need to vote for us to protect you from him, and if you’re gonna vote for Marvin Nelson you need to vote for us so we can help Marvin take this state back to its people.
What qualifications/assets do you have?
BL: It’s an uphill battle for any Democrat running in North Dakota. We are in the minority and that’s one of the reasons we are running too. It’s not good that Republicans have a supermajority. We need a closer balance so that there are watchdogs, people watching what’s going on. One of our assets is that people are not happy with what’s going on in Bismarck and they want to see a change. Plus we’re all well known in the community. I think people know that we’ve been honest and have been working for the community. So I hope that will help. I hope that some of my former students will vote for me.
MN: Probably, overall, the big picture is that our biggest asset is that the Republican party has done a great job of driving this state into the ground. First they convinced everybody that the state was the leading economic driver in the United States, that we had so much money flooding into the state that the state treasurer didn’t even count the money, it just went in one door and went out the next door. And so did you really feel like you got your piece of the pie. What most people are getting is higher taxes. And with the state government now, the governor cut the state budget-he wouldn’t call a special session, he cut the budget-and we’re facing the biggest property tax increase in the history of the state of North Dakota. Because when the state gives up its responsibilities, those deeds don’t disappear they just fall down on the local level. And at the end of the last session, Al Carlson, the House Majority Leader, he brought in a bill to cut the tax rates to the oil industry, because apparently they were short $1 billion in Oklahoma or Texas or someplace. He brings it in on a Friday, he says ‘Here’s the bill, you can talk about it, but the fix is in, we’re voting for it on Monday.’ It got passed on Tuesday, so we’re $1 billion short. Well we went from a billion dollar surplus suddenly to being $1.1 billion short. If it wasn’t for that bill, and all the Republicans voted for it, all the Democrats voted against it-so as far as I’m concerned, if you want to vote for your own self-interest, you need to vote for us, because we’re looking out for you. We’re up against three opponents, they’ve all been in the Legislature for 20 years now, and it’s just time for them to go.
What would you say are some of the biggest issues concerning District 14?
MN: There’s a lot of unhappiness about that borehole, and I don’t think that happiness is going to go away. One day people woke up and found out they [a partnership between UND’s Energy & Environmental Research Center, Solexperts AG, Battelle Memorial Institute and Schlumberger] were going to drill some test holes here down to the bedrock the continent sits on, and see if that was a good place to store radioactive waste. And people said, ‘Gee, nobody asked me about this’. But we’re past that now, it’s not going to happen.
DA: Public employees, I don’t like to use names, none of these people were at any of these meetings. And apparently decisions were made in Bismarck by very few heads of state somehow or other that this was just going to get done. Luckily we our county commissioners stood up for us, or we would’ve been in a bad way. My opinion, North Dakota is the bread-basket of the world, if it isn’t we definitely produce a lot of food, why would we want any of this kind of stuff in an area where we produce a lot of food. This would be so major that it wouldn’t even be a minor problem if anything happened with it.
BL: I think the things affect all of North Dakota affect right here in District 14, and one is the lack of good, affordable child care. One of our platforms is that we’re trying to support working families, and one of the ways to do that is we have to have, I think we should have world-class child care-I think the best in the world should be in North Dakota. We can afford it, the oil money, if it’s used correctly, can do some really important things for our children. And because I’m an educator, from the cradle to when they get through college, I think that is where we need to put a lot of our resources. Another is to give people a living wage. No matter where you are, if you’re working full-time you should be able to live on that-maybe not like a king, but you should be able to live and have enough money for food and housing and all the other necessities. Those things don’t just apply to District 14, they apply to the whole state, but they are important here too.
MN: We need to raise the minimum wage, because it is the quickest and easiest way to make government smaller. If people are making enough money to make it, then they don’t need food stamps, and they don’t need heating assistance and they don’t need housing assistance. So if you’re really in favor of smaller government, you need a higher minimum wage.
DA: One of the things I’ve been involved in is on the school board, a good inside look at what is happening with teachers’ retirement and public employees’ retirement systems. And that’s not only in North Dakota, that’s a nationwide problem. And whether anything can be done about that or not, I don’t know, but something should be done with it because all of those funds are in an extreme amount of trouble. Somebody’s going to have to pay that bill down the road.
MN: Another big problem that affects is workmen’s comp, they call it WSI, they’re not covering anybody. And it’s especially egregious when there’s these hometown heroes who volunteer on our fire department, emergency responders, EMTs and they’re taking their families’ financial well-being in their hands when they go out to fight a fire or pull someone out of a car wreck. It happened a couple years ago to Mitch Bjerke over in New Rockford. He was on a call and he had a heart attack. So they saved him and then, the way I hear it, Blue Cross Blue Shield wouldn’t cover him because he was working, and WSI wouldn’t cover him because he was a volunteer. And so he ended up with a $35,000 bill. They had some fundraisers for Mitch, but when people have a problem we shouldn’t have to pay for it with church suppers. That’s why we have the insurance, that’s why we have WSI. And this has just gotta be fixed, because it’s crazy and it’s an issue of public safety!
If elected, how do you intend to work across the aisle (i.e. with members of the Republican party)?
DA: With me I guess I would hope it would be with common sense. I don’t necessarily think all their ideas are bad and all ours are good and vice versa, but I still think in North Dakota it’s the person that’s there and not necessarily what party they’re from. And I think that’s proven in that you look at the statistics of the voters, there’s very few strong Republicans and very few strong Democrats and there’s lots of people in between that really are almost non-party. My entire life has been built on common sense and fiscal frugality and financial accountability.
BL: I would try two things. Find common ground, because almost always you can find some common ground. And the other one is to compromise; I’m a big believer in compromise. That’s how this country was founded. If the Framers had not compromised many times and over and over again-and I think that’s part of the problem in the U.S. Congress, it’s either ‘my way or we’re not doing anything.’ They can’t even take assault weapons away from people on no-fly lists who are potentially terrorists. I mean, something is wrong in Washington. In North Dakota I would also try keeping people aware of what’s being voted on. I would use media to let people know what’s going on down there and I would try to get North Dakotans on my side, so that if I don’t have the leverage in numbers at least in the Legislature, I would have leverage in numbers at the local level.
MN: The reality in Bismarck is that the real work is done in the Legislature in committee. So you get into a committee room and you sit down and start talking about this problem. You’ve got some legislation in front of you and you’ve got some ideas, and people start talking it over like reasonable people and they hammer out a compromise. And maybe a successful compromise is one that nobody’s happy with, but they feel they could give it a ‘do pass’ recommendation. And then the next day the Republicans come back into the room, and they say ‘Oh, there were a couple of commas out of place. We gotta reopen that.’ So they reopen it because there’s more Republicans than Democrats, they got the votes. They reopen it, they talk about it a little bit, and then they all vote against it because the guy who wasn’t even in the room, Al Carlson, had his mind made up. And you cannot work with a guy who’s not in the room, who’s got his mind made up. And they kill it right there, and you were thinking, ‘That was actually a pretty good piece of legislation.’ So that’s how you work with them. You just try to go with what’s reasonable, you try to compromise in places where you take the sting out of people of North Dakota, you try to-mostly what the Democrats have done the last couple of sessions is vote against the crazy stuff. I asked Ryan Taylor one time how you do this thing, and he turned into John Wayne on me; he got all still and silent, unblinking, stepped a little closer to me, and in a much quieter voice he said, not smiling, ‘Sometimes you just gotta shame them into doing what’s right.’
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