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Letter: Stenehjem Needs to Acknowledge Economic Reality

By Staff | May 6, 2016

If there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout my career in the private sector, and as mayor of Watford City fighting for the future of western North Dakota, it’s that you can’t begin to solve a problem until you acknowledge that it exists. It’s a basic concept, but one that is absolutely vital to effective leadership.

Earlier this month, Wayne Stenehjem took a jab at my campaign and running mate, saying that, “Despite what people might be seeing in television ads from others in the race for the Republican primary, North Dakota’s economy continues to perform well.”

I understand that North Dakota’s current economic situation is not convenient for someone running as the status quo candidate, but that does not give Mr. Stenehjem the authority to change the facts. The unfortunate reality is that North Dakota’s economy is in the second year of decline. We peaked during 2014 and have been trying to find the leveling off point for the last 18 months. The state’s general fund tax revenues (not including oil taxes) for March 2016 fell 32.7 percent from the previous biennium. Sales tax revenues for March 2016 fell 20 percent below the recently revised revenue forecast. The state is experiencing a significant revenue shortfall and has already tapped the rainy day savings accounts. Our state lost 20,700 jobs from March 2015 to March 2016; we are one of only two states to lose jobs in that period. A 4 percent budget allotment across the board cut has already occurred, and there are rumors of more drastic budget cuts on the way. This will effect programs and positions statewide.

This does not reflect an economy that “continues to perform well,” and no amount of political spin can make it so. While the Burgum-Sanford campaign has shown the willingness to talk about these issues, our opponent has sought to brand us as “pessimists” while attempting to claim the mantle of the election’s “optimist” for himself. But he couldn’t be more mistaken.

I am an optimist because I believe that North Dakota’s best days are ahead of us. I believe that, while our economy may be headed in the wrong direction, we have the opportunity to change our trajectory for the better. I believe that we can overcome the challenges that we face and emerge stronger than ever.

That’s what optimism is believing that we can reach a better future, even with the challenges that we face. Failing to acknowledge the existence of those problems? That isn’t optimism it’s willful ignorance. That isn’t how you should lead any type of organization, and it certainly isn’t how you should be campaigning for the highest public office in our great state.

Brent Sanford, current mayor of Watford City and candidate for ND lieutenant governor

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