Gov. Doug Burgum’s State of the State address on Tuesday was different. He eschewed a podium, moving about a Minot State University stage relying on notes instead of a script, with visual aids popping up in the background to support his points.
Governors don’t always give State of the State addresses in years when the Legislature isn’t in session. According to Burgum’s office, the last governor to do so was John Hoeven in 2002. Governors also don’t tend to leave the Capitol to give the addresses. Burgum plans to travel to a different city every off year to give his speech.
During his nearly 90-minute talk Burgum provided a recap of his first year in office. He was less focused on specific policies as he stressed how he wants to go about reinventing government. He talked about the revenue problems in the state and how they were accentuated by last summer’s drought. There was a warning that "We're not risk-free" and more work lies ahead in balancing the budget.
Burgum made it clear he doesn’t want to use the principal of the Legacy Fund, arguing the interest should be used to "transform what we're doing, not just fund basic ... services and operations of government." Legislators set aside $200 million in Legacy Fund earnings for this two-year budget cycle and Burgum said we might have to do it again.
The governor revisited meetings he’s held with tribal leaders, told how he worked to resolve the Dakota Access Pipeline protests and how the state helped farmers and ranchers during the drought. He talked about what he wants to accomplish during the year.
The governor likes to hold summits and use task forces to develop policy. So far, many of the things he’s working on are in the development stage. His task force on higher education governance has held its first meeting and has a lot of work to do if it wants to offer proposals to the Legislature next January. He plans a conference on his Main Street Initiative next month and has a group working on drug and alcohol issues.
It’s more of a boardroom approach to government and different from what most North Dakotans are used to. It’s a methodical effort to reinvent government. Sometimes, though, the public seems to get left out.
Not everyone gets a chance to attend meetings or summits, so much of what happens is done in the background. Burgum, along with many politicians and state leaders, likes to use talk radio to deliver messages. That’s fine, but there’s an automatic buffer between a listener who might want to ask a question and the radio guest. It’s not always conducive to tough questioning.
The State of the State address showed a governor who’s passionate about the state, who’s not afraid to tear up when discussing issues. Burgum’s challenge will be to take the proposals he and his working groups develop in the next few months and get them through the 2019 Legislature. Lawmakers tend to have their own ideas and when in session they like to be in control.
The governor has given the state an outline of what he wants to accomplish, now he needs to get down to specifics.