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Omdahl: Second Thoughts About New Governor’s Mansion

By Staff | Oct 9, 2015

Even though Gov. Jack Dalrymple was less than enthusiastic about a new governor’s mansion, the Legislature authorized $4 million in state funds and $1 million in private funds to replace the present 55-year-old residence.

Plans are already being scanned as the “Friends of the Residence” committee is being formed to raise the first $500,000 in private funds required to start construction.

Committee chairs former Insurance Commissioner Jim Poolman and Rep. Pamela Anderson (D-Fargo) have expressed the hope for a bipartisan effort because both parties will have governors using the grand new facility.

During the 55-year life of the present mansion, Democrats occupied it for 28 years and Republicans held it for 27 years.

But before we get too far along in the construction process, the experiences of other states should give us second thoughts about the whole project.

There are governors who have decided that mansion living is not for them. Governor Allan Olson (1980-84) took a lot of heat for refusing to expose his growing family to the isolation of living in the trees at Fourth and Boulevard. Of course, if we elect only old governors, this will not be an issue.

Other chief executives who have chosen not to live in their designated housing include the governors of California, Colorado, New Jersey, New Hampshire, Ohio and Michigan. Arizona, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont don’t even have mansions.

Then there is the sad case of Idaho where J. D. Simplot, the potato mogul, donated his spacious house to the state in 2005 for a mansion and governors have refused to occupy it. Meanwhile, it costs the state $125,000 annually to maintain it.

Last year, the Idaho legislature drafted a bill to sell the place but it was defeated for fear that the world would think the state was desperate. At one time, the state offered to give it back to the Simplots but the Simplots didn’t want it.

Governor’s mansions aren’t cheap to keep up. To help with maintenance costs, the governor’s mansion in South Carolina can be rented on Saturday nights for $3,500. The charge in Colorado is $1,600.

Since we have a generous appropriation, perhaps our plans should include a little wedding chapel for future rental. It could also be used as a prayer room if Donald Trump gets elected president.

The “Friends of the Residence” committee will be looking for ideas for raising the $1 million in private funds as soon as it gets organized.

The simplest method would be selling mansion naming rights to a donor with the money. If Harold Schafer were around, we could raise the money with one phone call.

Banks are always vulnerable. Among the possibilities would be Wells Fargo, First Western or Dacotah. You would think the First International Bank of Watford City would be bulging with all that Bakken money floating around.

If the $1 million offer has no takers, we could lower expectations and sell naming rights by the room for $50,000 each. Of course, that would take 20 rooms so the bathrooms would have to be included to reach the goal of $1 million.

Lotteries are popular but we would need a unique prize to lure customers. First prize could be the geographic center of North America. That seems to be a transient geographic feature that was moved from Balta to Rugby. Maybe the state has a lake that isn’t living up to its name.

A more realistic prize would be the first week in the new mansion even before the governor moved in. A free campsite site on Lake Sakakawea won’t cut it.

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