N.D. state senator seeks federal debt amendment

BISMARCK – A North Dakota state senator is getting attention across the country for his work to curb the nation’s rising debt.

Sen. Curtis Olafson, R-Edinburg, has been featured on talk shows in Texas and Maryland, mentioned in Forbes and asked to participate in a panel at Harvard through his work with Texas-based RestoringFreedom.Org.

The group is trying to get legislatures across the nation to support an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that states an increase in the federal debt requires approval from a majority of the nation’s state legislatures.

Congress isn’t limiting its ability to borrow or spend money, so supporters of the National Debt Relief Amendment are focused on a bipartisan state-initiated effort, Olafson said.

At $14.8 trillion, the debt amounts to more than $47,000 per man, woman and child, he said.

“You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in economics to understand that we are on a course that is completely unsustainable,” Olafson said.

Through Olafson’s efforts, North Dakota became the first state to approve a resolution stating the state favors a convention to be called for the federal debt constitutional amendment.

Article V of the Constitution states Congress shall call a convention for proposing amendments upon application of two-thirds of the nation’s legislatures.

A proposed amendment becomes part of the Constitution when ratified by three-fourths, or 38, of the state legislatures, according to Article V. Congress may also allow ratification by conventions in three-fourths of states.

“Our founding fathers intended that we as state legislators would understand that we not only have a right to use Article V (of the Constitution), but we have a duty to use Article V when we see a serious problem at the federal level which Congress is not solving,” Olafson said.

So far, North Dakota and Louisiana are on board, with 32 more states needed to request an amendments convention. Right now, there are committed sponsors in 12 states and serious interest in another 12, Olafson said.

“We are really building a lot of momentum and a lot of people are learning about the amendment and people universally like it,” he said.

During discussion of the resolution in North Dakota, some lawmakers called the proposal “a long shot” and problematic. Limiting the federal debt means either cutting government programs or having states pick up the costs, they said.

Olafson said it’s a “very challenging process” to amend the Constitution and says it should be.

But he said he keeps in mind his 2-year-old grandson who hasn’t cast a vote and hasn’t signed a mortgage but who will be passed on the nation’s debt.

“We must take action to make it right,” he said.

Glenn Hughes of Restoring Freedom said Olafson has been a “real champion” and was one of the first legislators across the nation to respond to the cause. In the coming months, Olafson plans to travel to Colorado, Arizona, Pennsylvania and Ohio to continue to lobby the issue.

“If there was ever a time when we should be using Article V, it is now,” he said.

Cities ask state lawmakers for flood protection funding

BISMARCK—North Dakota cities struggling to pay for flood protection are asking state lawmakers for financial support.

In between legislative sessions, lawmakers are meeting to hear about water issues across the state. Representatives from Valley City, Lisbon and Fort Ransom were among those to appear before the legislative Water-Related Topics Overview Committee on Monday.

“The record amount of rainfall, snowfall and subsequent flooding have created dire situations in all three communities,” said Sen. Larry Robinson, D-Valley City.

The cities are doing what they can to move forward with permanent flood protection, but none of them are in a position to cover the cost, he said. Valley City Mayor Bob Werkhoven said it’s time for state funding to be allocated.

“The river channel to the Sheyenne is simply not, at this point, large enough to accommodate anticipated flows,” he said. “And we don’t want to be another Minot. All three cities mentioned have run out of money due to the frequency of flooding during this wet cycle.”

The expense to protect Valley City and other flood-related costs in 2009 and 2011 reached $38 million, City Commissioner Matt Pedersen told state lawmakers.

Both the 2009 and 2011 spring floods mirrored the 500-year flood event modeling of approximately 21 feet, he said. If an emergency levee were to fail, the city could experience $217 million in residential, commercial and exempt property losses, he said.

“We were inches away from a Minot this summer,” Pedersen said, referring to the flooding along the Souris (Mouse) River that damaged 4,100 homes and resulted in the evacuation of one-fourth of Minot.

“We had significant rainfall. We almost flooded. We were inches away, so we need to invest in Valley City,” Pedersen told lawmakers.

Valley City’s immediate needs include $3.6 million for property buyouts, he said.

Fort Ransom Mayor James Thernes also asked state lawmakers for help. Three years of unprecedented flooding have taken a toll on the community and exhausted the city’s finances, he said.

“We find ourselves in desperate need of permanent flood control mitigation measures,” he said.

The city would like financial assistance for soils borings and testing, as well as a preliminary engineering feasibility study for the construction of permanent flood control.

Lisbon City Councilman Jerry Gemar said the costs to fight flooding are “getting too much for us to deal with financially,” and the city is losing people due to flooding concerns. The city needs help to move forward with flood protection, he said.

“Due to high costs of fighting the river, our city has depleted their funds and net worth to an extreme level,” he said in his testimony. “We are to the point (of) financial instability to where normal operations in our community are at risk.”

Sen. Tom Fischer, R-Fargo, said his committee is taking information from all of the entities and putting together a booklet of testimony to forward to the full Legislature to review during the special session in November.

Kemnitz stepping down from AFL-CIO after 28 years

BISMARCK – A man who dedicated nearly 30 years to advocating on behalf of North Dakota workers is stepping down later this month.

After 28 years as president of North Dakota’s AFL-CIO, Dave Kemnitz will leave the job on Oct. 31 after deciding not to seek re-election.

“To be a part of the greatest group and singular struggle in representing workers in their workplace, community, state and nation has to be considered the greatest opportunity and honor any individual could ask for. It sure has been for me,” he told members at the state convention in Grand Forks last week.

The North Dakota AFL-CIO has approximately 10,000 members. Kemnitz was first elected president in 1983. He previously worked as executive director of the North Dakota Building and Construction Trades Council and as president of the Bismarck Central Labor Council.

Now 62, Kemnitz plans to return to his roots as an electrician.

“You’ve gotta have a place to land mentally when you leave,” he said. “This has been my life. I love what I do, but I think it’s time to let someone else (do it).”

Kemnitz said his interest in union activism began in 1974 with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers apprenticeship program.

“I was tired of some of the abuses that you sustain or are foisted on you from not having any strength,” he said. “You’re just one person against an employer that can pretty much do what they want. Most are good, but not always.”

As president of the state AFL-CIO, Kemnitz has appeared countless times before legislators and other state officials to advocate for workers on issues such as workers compensation, pensions, unemployment and other labor laws. His job also entails providing resources and assistance to unions across the state and lobbying at the federal level.

Sen. Mac Schneider, D-Grand Forks, said Kemnitz developed a reputation as “a fighter, a voice for working people.”

“He is just a tireless representative for working families throughout the state,” Schneider said.

Even those who didn’t always agree with Kemnitz praised his years of service. North Dakota Chamber of Commerce President Andy Peterson said Kemnitz will be missed in the legislative process.

“He wasn’t always on the same side as we were, he didn’t see the world in the same way, but he was a gentleman and someone that, even though from time to time he opposed you, it was a pleasure to work with him,” Peterson said.

Rep. George Keiser, R-Bismarck, agreed.

“Dave was always a gentleman, a good adversary on occasion,” said Keiser, chairman of the House Industry, Business and Labor Committee. “I have tremendous respect for Dave as a person, as a lobbyist. I’m kind of disappointed that he’s retiring on the one hand, but I’m awfully happy for him personally.”

Gary Granzotto of Minot will replace Kemnitz. Granzotto is a Michigan native with a master of divinity degree from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. He spent nearly 10 years working in conflict resolution ministry before deciding it was time for a change in careers.

He then spent about 17 years working as a custodian for Minot Public Schools and became active in the union. He looks forward to taking on his new role.

“I think we are living in rather perilous times for American workers, for the middle class, for democracy in our country,” Granzotto said. “I believe I have leadership abilities to help us in that struggle.”

State treasurer wants to see more efficiency in state finances

BISMARCK—North Dakota government agencies have $3 million worth of outstanding state checks, and the state treasurer wants to see this number decline.

State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt recently gave state lawmakers an update on the matter.

Overall, 52 state agencies have more than 10,600 outstanding checks between 90 days and 3 years old that total nearly $3.1 million. (See the agency breakdown here)

Outstanding checks mean the money has not been received by the proper recipient, the recipient did not cash the check or state money has not been properly returned to the appropriate funds, Schmidt said. There is not a breakdown of how many checks fall into the various categories.

The state Tax Department has the largest amount of outstanding checks—5,416 worth $2.1 million—followed by the Department of Human Services with 2,168 checks worth about $351,000. The North Dakota Legislature is at the bottom of the list with two $25 checks outstanding.

Many of the outstanding checks in the Tax Department are due to people not cashing them, said Nathan Bergman, supervisor of the individual income tax section.

“It’s surprising how many people will get checks and just not cash them,” he said.

He estimated a few hundred checks come back as undeliverable. The department has a system in place to try to get money to the rightful owner in these cases, Bergman said.

Department staff search for new addresses and phone numbers and put a note on the resident’s account so—if that person calls the department—there’s a record that a check is due. If the resident files another tax return, the department checks the file for additional contact information.

“We try to do what we can do,” he said.

There is not a way for the public to search online to see if they have an outstanding state check that they lost, never got or haven’t cashed in the past three years. However, Schmidt said a new tax distribution outstanding check system can help state agencies work on their outstanding check lists.

This includes researching the validity of the payment, contacting the recipient to find out why the check remains outstanding, and determining whether a check should be voided and reissued.

The closer to the date of issue the checks are worked, the more likely a resolution is found, Schmidt said. This means more efficient government since less tracking is necessary, and money belonging to the state can be put back to proper use, she said.

A review of the 2011 outstanding check transfer report found the opportunity for increased efficiencies in state check practices is “striking,” Schmidt said. Issuing multiple checks to the same person, letting checks sit and not aggregating amounts for reissue have a dramatic effect on the efficiency of the state, she said.

After three years, remaining outstanding checks are turned over to the state’s Unclaimed Property Division. Next month, the state will turn over nearly 2,300 outstanding checks worth $435,000.

Schmidt, who pushed for the law requiring her office to report the status of outstanding state checks to legislators, said her office is continuing to work to improve the state’s check processes.

“Efficiency. That’s what we’re looking for,” she said. “It saves the taxpayers’ dollars.”

North Dakota native is rising star in Florida politics

BISMARCK–A North Dakota native was elected to serve as Republican Senate leader in the Florida legislature.

The St. Petersburg Times reports that Don Gaetz, “a product of the North Dakota prairie,” has these goals in his new position: “to set ‘the highest ethical standards’ for lawmakers and create a better environment for businesses to thrive.”

Gaetz, 63, is a Rugby native whose father served as the city’s mayor and as the Republican party chairman from Pierce County.

Don Gaetz graduated from Concordia College in Moorhead and received an alumni achievement award. In Florida, he developed the nation’s largest network of hospices, Vitas Healthcare, the St. Petersburg Times reported.

He was first elected to the Florida Senate in 2006.

North Dakota special session preview

BISMARCK—Before going on vacation last week, I spoke with Gov. Jack Dalrymple about what to expect from this year’s special legislative session.

He met with legislative leaders last week to discuss the parameters of the session, which will begin Nov. 7 and is expected to last five days. (See the Executive Order here.)

Topics will include redistricting, turning the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo decision back over to the State Board of Higher Education, and flood disaster relief, Dalrymple said.

Other issues for discussion are a state health insurance exchange and funding for a new human services eligibility system software package, he said. Federal funding for the system is available for a limited time, so there’s a financial advantage to getting started on it earlier, he said.

As far as flood relief, it’s hard to get into specifics at this point, but there are three basic areas identified as needs that will not be covered by disaster recovery funding, Dalrymple said.

The first is an improved and expanded floodway through the Burlington and Minot areas. The state is in the midst of a design plan for that through the state water engineer and will likely need to buy out additional properties beyond the area where FEMA will buy out houses, Dalrymple said.

“We’re going to need some real estate where we can build permanent levees,” he said. “FEMA will not pay for permanent levees.”

The state will also look at infrastructure funding, such as water, sewer, curb and gutter, as flooded communities begin to rebuild.

Dalrymple said they have also identified a need for some kind of homeowner assistance, particularly in the Minot area, for people who want to rebuild their homes but may not have the resources to do it.

“That’s something that’s going to take more discussion and more analysis, but is a need that I think all three of us (Dalrymple, House Majority Leader Al Carlson and Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner) acknowledged is there,” Dalrymple said.

The state could look into a “very friendly” loan program that allows people to repay their loan over time and is easier to get than a typical bank loan, he said.

North Dakota Legacy Fund starts growing

BISMARCK–A bank account for North Dakota’s future got a $34 million boost today.

State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt announced she will deposit $34,311,019.74 into the Legacy Fund.  This is the first monthly deposit into the Legacy Fund since its creation by initiated measure in 2010, a news release said. 

Under Article X, Section 26 of the North Dakota Constitution, 30 percent of all state oil revenue derived from oil and gas production and extraction after June 30, 2011, will be deposited into the Legacy Fund.  No principal or earnings of the fund may be spent until after June 30, 2017. Principal expenditures from the Legacy Fund after 2017 require a two-thirds passing vote of the Legislature. 

The Legacy Fund will be invested by the State Investment Board. 

Flood recovery coordinator updates legislators on Minot

BISMARCK—North Dakota’s flood recovery coordinator gave legislators a glimpse Wednesday of the help Minot is hoping to get during the Legislature’s special session in November.

Maj. Gen. Murray Sagsveen was one of the panelists Wednesday at the Community Flood Recovery Conference in Bismarck.

About 165 government officials, business representatives and members of the public attended the conference, said Dot Frank, a spokeswoman for the Bismarck-Mandan Chamber of Commerce. The chamber hosted the event.

Goals were to learn from other communities that have gone through disasters, to create a sense of support and to start consensus building on flood recovery issues.

During a legislative-focused session that several state lawmakers attended, Sagsveen said he had insight into the special session requests that may come out of Minot.

The first is infrastructure funding. The main problem in Minot is lack of housing, he said. About 4,000 homes were damaged in this summer’s flood in a city that already had a housing shortage, he said.

The city wants new housing developments to start next spring, but there needs to be water and sewer infrastructure in the new development area, Sagsveen said.

“The thinking is, if they can have an appropriation to the city to jump start the infrastructure, that will jump start the housing development and start to alleviate the housing (shortage),” he said.

The second proposal is home buyout money as the state moves forward with improved flood control in the Souris (Mouse) River Basin, he said.

“The second concept then is for the Legislature to appropriate money to buy the proposed homes in the right of way so that those homes can be acquired immediately and then the people who are bought out can turn that money around and buy homes as quickly as possible,” Sagsveen said.

The city of Minot is still developing dollar amounts for these proposals, he said.

Sagsveen is also considering another proposal after attending a conference presentation.

Dave Miller, Iowa’s former Homeland Security and Emergency Management administrator, discussed the creation of the Rebuild Iowa Office after the state endured massive flooding in 2008.

This temporary state agency focused on ensuring the state was rebuilt safer, stronger and smarter than before the disaster, according to its website. The office served as a one-stop shop for people to get help, file complaints and find information, Miller said

Sagsveen said this idea is “worthy of serious consideration.” As the state flood coordinator, he said he’s only one person and having a recovery office with a clear focus could be valuable for the state.

He said he wants to discuss this with the governor and state emergency officials to see if the idea should be considered during the November session.

Earlier in the day, Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said North Dakota is on track to receive more than $786 million to help individuals and communities recover from flooding.

In August, President Barack Obama approved the state’s request for the federal government to reimburse 90 percent of the eligible costs incurred from major flooding. Based on claims to date, this breaks down to $200 million for road and bridge damage and $270 million for public infrastructure damage, Hoeven said.

The amount also provides $37.4 million to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for the statewide flood fight, $91 million in FEMA individual assistance and $188 million in Small Business Administration disaster loans.

Additional federal hazard mitigation grants will be allocated this fall, Hoeven said, and he continues to work to secure community development block grant funding to help communities.

Sagsveen said the conference helped “immeasurably.”

“I’ve had some experience with Grand Forks and other areas, but to listen to particularly the Iowa situation with what they did in response to that was very helpful,” he said.

A smaller version of the conference will be offered today in Minot.

Today’s Ask Your Government

Dear Teri,

Thank you for the article on new North Dakota laws. I was curious: Can a postal worker take a gun in his vehicle to work?

Ken Dahl

Lakota

Thanks for writing! Ken is referring to a new law that says employers may not prohibit employees or customers from having lawfully-possessed firearms locked inside their private vehicles in a parking lot.

Exceptions include schools and correctional facilities. The bill also includes this exception:

“Any other property owned or leased by a public or private employer or the landlord of a public or private employer upon which possession of a firearm … is prohibited under any federal law, contract with a federal governmental entity or other law of this state.”

I contacted the law’s sponsor, Rep. Scot Kelsh, D-Fargo. He said the post office didn’t come up during the bill hearings or deliberations. He found the federal regulation (39 CFR 232.1) regarding guns on U.S. Postal Service property:

“Weapons and explosives. No person while on postal property may carry firearms, other dangerous or deadly weapons, or explosives, either openly or concealed, or store the same on postal property, except for official purposes.”

“As best as I can tell, federal law/rule does preclude the pertinent sections of the law to which House Bill 1438 applies,” Kelsh said.

To be sure, I also contacted the U.S. Postal Service. Spokesman Pete Nowacki sent me the following:

“I sent this question to the USPS legal department. They agreed with the bill’s sponsor as to the application of 39 CFR 232.1 and added a pair of citations from case law:

“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit held this prohibition to be constitutional under the presumptively lawful category of “sensitive place” regulations acknowledged in the District of Columbia v. Heller … See United States v. Dorosan … (affirming an employee’s conviction for storing a handgun in a car parked on postal property).

“Under Heller, the Supreme Court determined that although the Second Amendment protects an “individual right to possess and carry weapons in case of confrontation,” that right is “not unlimited,” and does not permit any person to possess any weapon wherever he or she may choose.

“Specifically, the court held that “laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings” are “presumptively lawful” and further explained that restrictions on firearms in these particular places were merely “examples” of lawful regulatory measures.

“In Dorosan, the court held that the Postal Service was not obligated by federal law to provide parking to its employees. As such, should an employee seek to store a firearm in his or her car but abide by the ban of firearms on postal property, then an employee must secure alternative parking arrangements off postal property.

“The Postal Service maintains that its property is a “sensitive place” in accordance with the Heller court. As such, the change in the North Dakota state law does not trump the federal regulations the Postal Service relies on that prohibit firearms on government property.

“I hope that this information is helpful.”

Do you have a question for a North Dakota state government official or agency? Send us your question, and we’ll do our best to find an answer.

E-mail politics@wday.com (Subject: Ask your government).

You may also write to Teri Finneman c/o Forum Communications, Press Room, State Capitol, Bismarck, ND 58505.

Please include your name, town and a phone number to reach you for verification.

In case you missed it: Al Carlson profile

BISMARCK – To most North Dakotans, he’s known as the man who led the last-ditch effort to save the University of North Dakota’s Fighting Sioux nickname.

For the past seven months, House Majority Leader Al Carlson of Fargo has dominated headlines across the state with what he saw as a mission to let the people of North Dakota be heard.

From the January day he submitted the controversial bill to enshrine the nickname in state law to the unsuccessful attempt this month to convince the NCAA to let the school keep the name, Carlson has been front and center.

While he acknowledges he became “the poster child” for the issue, he said he doesn’t regret any of it and said there are many others who also believed in the cause.

“I think I voted for what a majority of North Dakotans wanted, and somebody had to be the sponsor, and somebody had to answer the press when they called,” he said. “Statewide, that didn’t hurt me at all.”

His opponents think otherwise. Democratic Party Chairman Mark Schneider called the effort a “dog and pony show” that will go down as “one of the biggest Republican debacles in the history of North Dakota.”

An unofficial Forum survey posted online this past week found the majority of respondents also disagree with Carlson’s push to keep the nickname.

Of about 3,100 respondents, 66 percent did not think it was appropriate for the state and Carlson to pursue a bill to keep the nickname. Nearly 71 percent didn’t think Carlson handled the issue appropriately, and 66 percent don’t think he’s an effective leader for the state. (Click on the graphic to enlarge.)

During the legislative session, lawmakers listened to several hours of testimony and were flooded with thousands of emails for and against the nickname bill. By March, 93 lawmakers and the governor had given their approval, leading to the Aug. 12 showdown with the NCAA.

So who is this Fargo conservative who isn’t afraid to spark some controversy?

Whether you like his politics or not, Carlson is one of the state’s most influential political leaders.

Background

Carlson, 62, grew up in Gwinner and Mooreton, N.D. He went to high school in Wahpeton and attended the North Dakota State College of Science. He then attended North Dakota State University and spent six years teaching history and geography at Agassiz Middle School in Fargo.

He started working in real estate on the side and then quit teaching to pursue real estate full time. In 1980, he started his own construction business and has worked at that since.

As a history teacher, he believed in the democratic process and encouraged his students to get involved in government. His job and his decision to be home for his three children kept him from following his own advice until his youngest child was a junior in high school.

In 1992, Carlson saw an opportunity to enter politics as a Republican state lawmaker and credits his “very supportive wife” for standing beside him as he pursued his longtime interest.

As a businessman, Carlson felt the Legislature needed people who understood how the business community works.

“What creates jobs is the private sector, not government. I took that philosophy with me,” he said. “I went to Bismarck saying we need to create a better business-friendly environment for businesses to grow and prosper.”

Politics

During his early years in office, Carlson earned praise from The Forum’s editorial board for being “a solid, careful lawmaker” and for putting his business experience “to good use in his legislative work.”

He was caucus chairman of the House Republicans and served on the natural resources and industry, business and labor committees. He also developed a reputation as a fiscal conservative. In a 1997 floor speech, he chided his colleagues for spending too much money that session.

In a recent interview, Carlson said he gets frustrated when the “solution that everybody seems to follow is: if you give everybody more money, everything will be better.”

He said he’s more results-oriented and is an advocate of performance pay for teachers and public employees, incorporating a private-sector model into government.

Carlson has sparked controversy throughout the years with some of his proposals and comments (see sidebar). A 2000 Forum story remarked, “His political record is characterized by a fearless capacity for partisan battles.”

Carlson took heat in 2007 during a speech about a bill giving North Dakotans the right to shoot a burglar or carjacker.

“I’d tell you what would happen in my house. I would shoot that person, and I would shoot them enough times that I knew he wasn’t going to do any danger to me or my family,” Carlson said at the time. “He’d leak like a watering can when I was done with him.”

Letters to the editor came in after, with one calling him “the biggest buffoon I’ve ever observed at any level of government.”

Carlson said he was born with thick skin.

“I think it helps to have a fairly strong personality,” he said. “You get beat up on a daily basis. You have to be able to just walk through that.”

In 2000, he told The Forum one of the greatest compliments he ever got was when a college buddy introduced him to someone, saying, “With Al Carlson, what you see is what you get.”

Democrats’ views

After a few attempts in the 2000s, Carlson succeeded in securing the House majority leader post in 2008.

Schneider, chairman of the Democratic Party, said Carlson has “a huge amount of power and influence,” but he thinks Carlson “lacks the vision that a leader should have,” particularly when the state has a wealth of oil.

“He looks at this in a microscope instead of a macroscope,” Schneider said. “His first priority would be giving (tax) breaks to the oil companies.”

Instead, the state could be adding another oil refinery, guaranteeing affordable tuition for higher education and ensuring adequate funding for K-12 education for future generations, Schneider said.

“You don’t see any grand vision,” he said. “If we had a leader who had a grand vision, we have the wherewithal in the state to do it and to make a better day for future generations to come.”

He called Carlson’s proposal this past session to overhaul the state’s education system a “huge power grab” that would have put education under the majority party’s political thumb.

House Minority Leader Jerry Kelsh of Fullerton said he and Carlson get along on a personal basis and respect each other. But he thinks it was “foolishness” to pass the Fighting Sioux law and said the legislation wasted a lot of time, money and energy.

“I think it was political posturing for somebody that wanted to run for higher office. That’s my opinion,” Democrat Kelsh said.

He also doesn’t think the minority party is taken into consideration or kept up to speed on decisions with Carlson as majority leader.

Leadership

Carlson doesn’t have an easy job as leader of a large caucus with different personalities and opinions, said Rep. RaeAnn Kelsch, R-Mandan.

She thinks Carlson approaches his leadership post like his job as a contractor: putting in place a team of leaders he can count on, while still keeping a finger on the pulse of what’s going on.

She said Carlson is “very personable” and committed to his job. Although he sometimes may throw out an idea for the shock factor, he’s trying to get people to think outside the box and come up with solutions, she said.

“And I think that’s good. We need to have innovative and creative ideas,” Kelsch said. “They may go too far, but he’s one of those people who says, ‘OK. If I’ve gone too far, then bring me back. Help me get there. Let’s work on it together.’ ”

Carlson’s running mate, Rep. Bette Grande, R-Fargo, said they have always stuck together with a motto of “common sense, business sense.” Carlson likes to look at the big picture and then work out the details from there, she said.

He’s been known to take the bull by the horns and run with it, but it’s important to step out boldly and to know what you believe in, Grande said.

Carlson “gets good grades” on improving tax policy, said Dustin Gawrylow, executive director of the North Dakota Taxpayers’ Association.

But the Fighting Sioux nickname took “up all of the oxygen in the room” this past session and consumed a lot of time that could have been spent on other issues, Gawrylow said.

The association supports Carlson’s efforts to challenge the status quo when it involves improving accountability and transparency, he said.

Carlson’s idea to overhaul the state’s education system was a “shot-in-the-dark type of deal,” but it was a step in the right direction and sent a message to higher education to get their act together, Gawrylow said.

“Certainly he’s in that crowd of folks that are willing to do something that the editorial boards don’t like,” he said.

Fighting Sioux

Spearheading a state law that required UND to keep the Fighting Sioux nickname was one of those Carlson moves that not all newspaper editorial boards liked. The state had already lost a lawsuit against the NCAA, which deemed the nickname hostile and abusive and said the university would face sanctions if the name was not changed.

The school was in the process of transitioning away from the nickname when Carlson’s legislation halted those plans.

Schneider said Carlson put UND’s student athletes and world-class hockey program at risk by challenging the settlement terms. He also pointed to the state expense of going to Indianapolis “for a face-saving meeting with the NCAA to hear exactly what they knew they were going to hear.”

“If I sound negative on Al Carlson, it’s because he’s done it to himself,” Schneider said.

Kelsch defended Carlson and said it was worth the fight.

“We had constituents, whether they were our direct constituents or people that live in North Dakota and, most importantly, the Native Americans, who felt like the Board of Higher Education ignored what they had to say,” she said. “We gave them the opportunity to come in and speak. We gave them the opportunity to let their voices be heard.”

Carlson also still believes it was the right thing to do and said he feels for the Native Americans who support the nickname “because it’s a very prideful name for them.”

Carlson said he’s “principled enough to know” he won’t be the one to submit the bill to undo his law. He won’t discourage anyone else from submitting a bill to do so, though.

“I’m not here to obstruct the process or to hurt UND,” he said.

The Legislature is expected to move forward to change or repeal the nickname law during a special session in November.

The future

Carlson doesn’t think the Fighting Sioux nickname will be his legacy as a legislator, adding, “This is not the mountain I’m going to die on.”

He thinks his work on taxes, workers’ compensation reform, improving hunting access and pro-business policies are his biggest achievements. He also sees more work to be done with the state’s infrastructure, workforce training and flood relief.

He’s considering a run for U.S. House, but won’t decide until a trip to Washington, D.C., in December. He wants to meet some congressmen and determine if the job would be right for him.

He said he’s continued to seek public office for the past 18 years because the job is never finished.

“The key to the whole legislative process is … never forgetting who you work for. You work for the people,” Carlson said. “Never forget who you work for, and make sure they have access.”