Excerpts from recent North Dakota editorials

09/18/2014 9:07 AM

09/18/2014 9:07 AM

The Williston Herald, Williston, Sept. 6, 2014

Housing: The unfair impact

It's a cruel irony to see Barbara Vondell walk away from the Senate race, forced out by the very issue she sought to correct.

Williston's foremost voice on the shocking and ridiculous housing prices — a modern day Robin Hood of sorts seeking to remove the poor and middle class from under the thumbs of corporate American greed in the oil patch's housing market — is moving to Devils Lake because she can no longer afford lot rent at a mobile home park, where she cares for her elderly mother.

Other than relieving financial burden, we're having trouble finding the happily ever after moment or triumphant comeback story.

It speaks volumes about the state of the free market and oil boom greed that Vondell, a resident first and a politician last, is now a victim of housing prices, like so many before her have been.

But this loss feels different. Maybe Vondell and her hundreds of supporters weren't going to change the Williston housing market. She was a long shot to defeat Brad Bekkedahl in November, but it was hard not to admire the lofty aspiration to run and make a difference. But now Vondell is just a statistic, and to housing companies and opposite-minded people about housing prices, a thorn out of their sides.

It begs the question, who will be Williston's voice on housing now?

If history is to be used as contrast to the present and future, it certainly won't be the 2015 Legislature. Ballot measures and pushes for rent control have been squashed by the free market and past politicians. The Housing Incentive Fund was slashed in 2013, which wouldn't have changed prices immediately, but the signal was strong that free market is more desirable than a person's quality of life.

Last week, House Majority Leader Al Carlson visited western North Dakota in Belfield, a fringe oil impact town, to see "what investments we've made" in oil counties. Maybe next visit, Carlson should try to find an apartment in Williston or Watford City, and see what investments him, Dwight Cook and their eastern cronies didn't make in the oil patch.

We realize there's no solution the upcoming Legislature can devise that will swoop in and fix the housing needs.

Housing, in fact, could be a lost cause at this point thanks to years of greed on the business level and egotistical mismanagement by eastern legislators in Bismarck.

But that doesn't mean Williston should cast itself aside and admit defeat — at least not until housing issues have run every person still holding a permanent Williston address to Fargo, Bismarck or elsewhere.

There's no shame in Vondell leaving her Senate campaign. She did what was right for her family, and ultimately, if voted in, what was right for the citizens.

Now it's time for state legislators to do what's right for western North Dakota — fix the gross production tax formula, double the Housing Incentive Fund and think seriously about what it can do to help the elderly population of Williston afford to live here.

Someday, a legislator will to have to move their family out of their home for the same reason, and they'll only have themselves to blame for the shame they feel.


The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, Sept. 14, 2014

Tough questions for tax commissioner

Recently, North Dakota State Tax Commissioner Ryan Rauschenberger admitted to using poor judgment following a rollover crash of a vehicle he owned. He acknowledged lending the vehicle to a man he had met while undergoing treatment for alcohol addiction at a facility in Bismarck. He also disclosed missing time in office because of his condition, and his struggles with the disease.

After the incident, Rauschenberger announced he would take a leave of absence to get more treatment and get his life back in order. He also indicated he would return to campaigning in advance of the November election. Undoubtedly, Rauschenberger and his opponent, Jason Astrup, are receiving plenty of advice from their handlers on how best to proceed.

Unfortunately, political parties often compare past instances, typically unrelated, as the basis to defend or to criticize an opponent. They should, instead, argue their candidates' qualifications and ability to effectively serve.

North Dakota's should not accept a "politics as usual" mentality, the type prevalent in other states. Our principles and values — those that favorably define our state — can't be sacrificed. Elected officials and political parties should be held to the highest possible standards without exception. Ultimately, they work for and need to answer to those funding their paychecks.

Transparency and full accountability are what we, as taxpayers, are entitled to for any public figure. The extent of Rauschenberger's affliction and how it influenced his behavior and judgment during his time in office will likely remain unknown. Still, he needs to be willing to provide answers in the days ahead. It's a reasonable expectation.

Not surprising, this will be a growing political issue approaching the November election. Predictably, Rauschenberger, a Republican, will be under fire from Astrup, a Democrat. And Democrats will continue to question Rauschenberger's ability to be state tax commissioner and position their candidate as the better choice.

Ultimately, alcoholism shouldn't equate to political gain or loss, but to an individual's well-being. It's a disease affecting millions of Americans. Nearly 88,000 people die annually from alcohol-related causes, making alcohol the third-leading preventable cause of death in the United States.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, approximately 17 million adults, or 7.2 percent of those 18 and older in the United States, had an alcohol disorder in 2012. Afflicted men outnumbered women by an almost 2 to 1 ratio. Only 1.4 million or 8.4 percent of those in need received treatment in a specialized facility.

Some are calling for Rauschenberger to resign from his post, arguing his ability to serve has been severely compromised. They make a strong, compelling case — one that will be difficult for Rauschenberger to defend in the days ahead.

Ultimately, that decision rests with Rauschenberger.

He needs to be honest about the effectiveness of his treatment. If he is unable to effectively serve and represent the state in the highest manner possible, he needs to do what's best — not only for North Dakota, but for himself.


Minot Daily News, Minot, Sept. 15, 2014

Leave coal alone, Obama

The glitz of the Bakken has captured the attention the entire country — the world, some would say.

But beneath the same sod lies a fossil fuel that has been largely forgotten. Except by President Obama and the misled do-gooders at the EPA who are doing all they can to stymie coal production for political purposes.

Coal. Specifically in this state, lignite coal, has been silently powering North Dakota and much of the Midwest literally for generations. The leadership of the Lignite Energy Council recently reminded us of how important coal is in and to North Dakota.

Currently, the seven coal-powered plants in the state provide close to 90 percent of all the electricity created in North Dakota. More than 4,000 jobs are directly linked to the lignite industry with another 13,000 indirectly linked. The industry pumps $3 billion into the North Dakota economy each year and pays more than $100 million in state taxes.

Plus, North Dakota residential customers pay the lowest cost in the country for the electricity they rely on. Compare that to the price of gasoline here and around the country. Hits home, doesn't it?

Obama should focus more on destroying lives in other parts of the world, such as those of Islamic terrorists, and leave ours alone.


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