As soon as the legislative session concluded Gov. Doug Burgum visited the Tribune to tout the many accomplishments, and to point out where the Legislature came up short.
After using the word transparency or transparent the 13th time I quit counting and made a few notes on my pad and when I had the opportunity I asked the governor how castrating the state auditor fit into his definition of transparency.
He immediately became defensive and said it was about the money. His first explanation being that these unplanned audits were hurting agencies that had not budgeted for them.
We pointed out that that excuse doesn’t hold water when you look at all the plans the Legislature and the governor created to spend Legacy earnings that were too great for their pockets to contain. Setting aside a couple of million for unplanned audits would have been a drop in the bucket compared to the Legacy funding commitments.
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The governor quickly pivoted and said he agreed to rein in the auditor because the Legislature had overwhelmingly passed the measure.
Again, we pointed out that he had vetoed Senate Bill 2055, which passed both the Senate and House with huge margins and then both overrode his veto in nearly unanimous votes. Senate Bill 2055, you may recall, was a bill that took power or authority away from the governor. With that argument shot down, the governor then turned to the tried and true tactic of attacking our motive in asking the question. “This is only an issue with a couple hundred people on social media,” he said.
I was frankly unaware that the issue had become a social media firestorm until our meeting ended and one of our editorial board members told me about it.
If it hasn’t become clear to the governor and the Legislature yet that this blatant attempt to shield themselves from public scrutiny and accountability has backfired on them, they are not listening. That they have stalled voter-approved ethics reform simply confirms their disdain for the voter.
If they decide to leave the problem for a fix in the next legislative session many of them may not be around to participate. After all, there is an election preceding the next session and we will be sure to remind the voters what the governor and Legislature did in the closing hours of the 2019 session.
Our governor and Legislature believe in transparency all right — “transparency for thee, but not for me.”
Gary Adkisson is publisher of the Bismarck Tribune.