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Gov. Doug Burgum in January 2019

Gov. Doug Burgum expressed confidence in donor support for his $150 million proposal for the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library at Medora.

In a meeting Thursday with reporters, the first-term Republican governor further outlined his plan to use $50 million in Legacy Fund earnings matched with $100 million in donations to build the $100 million facility at Medora's gateway to Theodore Roosevelt National Park, with a $50 million endowment.

Burgum has made several appeals to North Dakota lawmakers for his proposal on the project — in two speeches, in his first-ever testimony to legislators and in a legislative reception for lawmakers to hobnob with major outside supporters of the project — including the 26th president's great-great-grandson, Ted Roosevelt.

President Roosevelt as a young man ranched and hunted in the 1880s in Dakota Territory's Little Missouri Badlands near Medora, where he also recovered from the twin deaths of his wife and mother in 1884.

Lawmakers have questioned how and if the governor's proposal could meet $100 million in donor support. Burgum says the donor interest is there.

"I would say we have verbal indication that would put us over halfway there if the state of North Dakota steps up," the governor said. "They're firm and they're verbal, but they're conditional on the state of North Dakota indicating that we want to be a partner in this." 

So now or never? 

Yes, according to Burgum: "The time is right now." 

"I believe that the window for the donor dollars is narrow. I believe that the support from the Roosevelt family — which we have today — is not permanent because they have other states that are chasing them," the governor said.

"The federal government and the Park Service has indicated support in this administration. That could change with a change in administration."

Burgum said "strong support" from the state House — where the proposal is now — could "accelerate the verbal commitments that we'll be able to collect." 

Nothing is possible until after crossover, when passed bills switch chambers. Crossover is Feb. 22. 

Legacy Fund earnings, if committed, would fund the library's $50 million endowment. Those dollars would be available as soon as June 30, 2021, according to Burgum, who called the library proposal the "flagship" of his nine ideas that use Legacy Fund earnings. 

The governor also noted a $5 million "initial gift" to the North Dakota Community Foundation from former Walmart chair Rob Walton and his wife, Melani, a 1998 alumna of Dickinson State and trustee of the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Foundation Board. The Waltons joined Ted Roosevelt on Tuesday in Bismarck.

"That money could be used to be directed towards this project and towards the initial startup phases, if they so choose, but that's up to the Waltons at this point," Burgum said. "But they've put that in there as an initial kickstarter."

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Reach Jack Dura at 701-223-8482 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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