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The N.D. struggle to be number one

By Staff | Jul 31, 2009

Deep in its prairie soul, North Dakota yearns to be Number One in something important. But as the wise have warned, we should be careful what we wish for because we may get it. And we have.

Our first Number One was, according to the Public Integrity Section of the U. S. Justice Department, being the state with the most corrupt public officials in the nation. It was a fleeting honor, as we soon discovered that 80 percent of the cases were violations at the Indian casinos and not by public officials at all. The issue is dead since New Jersey just passed every other state with flying colors.

Our next Number One was binge drinking. This is a real Number One. According to statistics, North Dakota has more binge drinkers in all age groups than any other state. And we rank Number One in underage drinking.

Not regarding these rankings as honors, Senators Elroy Lindaas (Mayville), John Andrist (Crosby) and JoNell Bakke (Grand Forks) and Rep. Kim Koppelman (West Fargo) introduced legislation in the last session to increase criminal penalties for adults convicted of supplying alcohol to youngsters.

The bill was soundly defeated in the House of Representatives by a vote of 68 nays to 15 yeas. House committee members who argued against the bill thought it would hurt the liquor industry and kids would get alcohol “from the refrigerator at home” anyway. It didn’t seem like a very sober argument, but it was late in the session and carried the day.

Our next attempt at Number One was brain health. It turned out that we weren’t even in the running, ranking in the bottom 20 percent 42nd, to be exact. We ranked 50th in sleep and 50th in reading for personal interest, meaning that we aren’t exactly brain dead but we’re close.

The same study ranked North Dakota 44th in religious and spiritual activity, something that caused alarm among the state’s clergy. With productivity a key measurement in this economy, they prophesied pay cuts, layoffs and outsourcing. But that ranking should not be surprising because it measured only activities. North Dakota ranks high in believing. Apparently, we just don’t let it influence our activities.

With 65 percent of our population obese and/or overweight, we couldn’t even win the Number One fat award. We lost to Mississippi, but take heart.We were edged out by only three percent, so if everyone had an extra serving of French fries every day for the next year we could capture the top spot in 2010 and our potato farmers would get rich.

On the brighter side, we are Number One in socialism, having the only state-owned bank and a mill. Maybe we should be playing to our strength instead of fumbling around in these other areas.

In summary, we seem to be a state of honest public officials (relatively speaking), populated by fat, socialistic chronic drunks who can’t sleep and won’t read or practice their faith. If we could put all of these data into one measurement, I wonder if we would take Number One in some sort of “hopeless” ranking

Omdahl is a UND professor emeritus in political science and a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota..

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