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Heitkamp, Cramer spar on issues in first debate after Democratic incumbent apologizes for newspaper ad

Zaleski: The Flotsam of bad ideas drifts ashore

Let us plumb Stygian political waters for bad ideas.

Fargo City Commissioner Tony Gehrig, a proud craftsman of bad ideas, has outdone himself with absurdities about special assessments. Yes, there is a problem. "Specials," as levied, are indefensible. But Gehrig's remedy is worse than the malady. It's claptrap that would unfairly shift specials from those who benefit from utility and street improvements to every property taxpayer in the city. His fix would add to Fargo residents' costs by jacking up rates for water, sewer and other services.

In harmony with Gehrig's ineptitude, he apparently is unaware his artifice is illegal. The 2017 Legislature decreed that municipalities cannot collect taxes or fees for one purpose and then divert the revenue to another use. Gehrig's stratagem is a non-starter.

Fargo residents would do better to look to Mayor Tim Mahoney and commissioner candidate Tim Flakoll for thoughtful and legal solutions to the specials imbroglio. Candidates Linda Boyd, Arlette Preston and Kelan Oster also have smarter plans. Next month, when voters see Gehrig's name on the city ballot (heaven help us, he's running for re-election), they should rebuff the campaign taradiddle that he is "the responsible choice." His special assessment twaddle is as irresponsible as it gets.

North Dakota state Sen. Kelly Armstrong of Dickinson, the Republican candidate for the U.S. House, is pandering to angst and prejudice with a "law enforcement" television ad. It's a bad idea. It feeds the endemic, historical injustice and misunderstanding that divide North Dakotans. Instead of urging dialogue to foster healing among American Indians and other North Dakotans in the fallout from the Dakota Access Pipeline confrontation, Armstrong hints "law enforcement," in effect, will round 'em up and lock 'em up if it happens again.

The ad insinuates that the only bad actors at DAPL were out-of-state agitators. Not true. Local tribal members were in the fray, and were arrested for violations ranging from serious to silly. Armstrong can't legitimately separate state natives from interlopers.

Instead of exacerbating animus among North Dakotans, Armstrong should emulate Gov. Doug Burgum. Among the governor's first acts were to meet with native leaders, open lines of communication, and work to end the protest. That was authentic and risky statecraft, not the cynical expediency of partisan politics.

University of North Dakota President Mark Kennedy's apology for telling the truth was a bad idea.

Weeks ago, Kennedy said appropriations cuts to UND and, by inference, the university system, damaged UND's mission. He said further cuts, such as contingency reductions proposed by Gov. Burgum, would compound the damage.

One of the legislators responsible for harming higher education, Sen. Ray Holmberg, R-Grand Forks, insisted the 2017 Legislature had been generous to the campuses. He was unhappy with Kennedy's candor. Apparently not spoiling for a fight he surely could have won on the merits, Kennedy apologized. Too bad. He should have affirmed his remarks.

Other campus presidents should have echoed Kennedy's forthright appraisal of the hurt lawmakers delivered to faculties and students. It's not just UND, after all. North Dakota State University is losing good educators; students are losing course options. Haven't heard much from NDSU President Dean Bresciani. Disappointing.

Zaleski retired in 2017 after nearly 30 years as The Forum’s editorial page editor. He continues to write a Sunday column. Contact him at jzaleski@forumcomm.com or (701) 241-5521.

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