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Lloyd Omdahl: The critical need for cognitive flexibility

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If the Democratic Party plans to influence public policy in North Dakota, it will need cognitive flexibility in abundance. Right now, it is in short supply.

Cognitive flexibility means the ability to recognize the need for change but traveling in the same rut, no matter what.

The focus of the party is on electing more legislators, a few state executives and maybe a governor in a good year.

Looking at the chances of the Democrats ever electing a majority of either house, or fielding well-financed state candidates, a person with cognitive flexibility would come to the conclusion that they will be out in the cold unless they change strategies. Traditional politics will no longer work for Democrats in the present environment.

As unchanging as the Catholic Church has been through the centuries, Pope Francis recently chewed out his following about letting tradition stand in the way of manifesting the Gospel. He would move forward faster except he is plagued by a group of traditionalists, even some who want to go back to Latin. He has cognitive flexibility.

Since President Joe Biden has had a difficult time gaining traction as the Democrats face the off-presidential year shift, the outcome of the 2020 election is predictable. The small platoon of Democrats now in the Legislature may be even smaller after 2022.

Thinking about public policy, maybe the Democratic leaders are happy the way the Republican majority has been programming state money, avoiding the human issues as much as possible.

Sending $150 million back to the federal government because it couldn’t see the need, the state has denied hundreds of people benefits. Maybe need has a different meaning to Republicans.

By sticking to traditional politics and remaining a muted voice in the tumult, Democrats leave the feeling that Republicans are covering every base as far as human needs are concerned.

So while people are hurting, the Legislature has led the state into locking up the $8 billion Legacy Fund. For what? The only suggestion so far has been investing some in North Dakota which they ought to do.

If the answer is “saving it for the future,” for a lot of people the future is now. The needs of the current generation need addressing as much as future generations. Besides, the economy in the United States continues to grow so the future looks promising.

We do very little for the people whose land we stole and corralled them on reservations, dependent on an unreliable government. That is one need that should be painful for any Christian.

We stand around wringing our hands waiting for the federal government to dish out grants. While we enjoyed the millions in pandemic aid, we have done little ourselves, not realizing that we are no longer the poor state we once were.

The depression is over. Energy has surpassed agriculture as North Dakota’s leading industry. Energy is adding value to our state; a significant part of agriculture is dependent on “safety nets” and other federal support.

Our inaction is killing federalism. We are encouraging the federal government to do it all.

As a matter of fact, we have so much money in North Dakota that the Legislature is terrorized by its size. Money has been stuffed in every dark hole possible with the hope that the state can continue to tell the less fortunate that it doesn’t have any money.

Last session, rather than consider programs for people, the Legislature cut down the surplus by giving every North Dakota income tax filer a $350 credit. So who benefited from this break? The lower-income people who won’t owe $350 in income taxes, so what will they get out of the deal?

Cognitive flexibility. The dinosaurs didn’t have cognitive flexibility. They are gone.

Lloyd Omdahl is a political scientist and former North Dakota Democratic lieutenant governor. 

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