Voters do not like being ignored
Voters in Griggs County recalled all five sitting county commissioners last week, the result of a dispute over building a new county courthouse in Cooperstown. The citizens of that county three times voted down efforts to build a new courthouse. And then the county commissioners went ahead with it anyway.
What part of no did they not understand?
North Dakota residents are slow to rile. But the five part-time county commissioners in Griggs County managed to do just that, in spades.
City and county commissions as well as school and park boards across the state ought to take note. Once people see an effective remedy like the recall, they begin to look for more applications.
We've heard the Griggs County story before. The courthouse (or school or community center) needs repair, renovation or expansion and the elected body puts the fix on the ballot. But when voters turn down the project, the board or commission revives the project in one form or other and figures out a way to pay for it without voter approval. We can all think of instances of this happening around the area, including Bismarck-Mandan. Not to get cute, but to a degree that's the scenario around the present expansion of the Bismarck Civic Center's Exhibition Hall.
Mostly voters take elected officials' actions in stride, or they agree with the new means of getting the project done. We don't know what people are really thinking because there's no vote. A person can only guess the electorate's motivation.
The Griggs County commissioners guessed wrong. They might have had a clue, however, in that the county voters had rejected courthouse projects multiple times.
The situation in which elected public officials are not attune to voters isn't unique to North Dakota. In September, Colorado voters recalled two Democratic state senators, Angela Giron and John Morse, because of the pair's successful efforts to pass more strict gun control for that state. Now petitions are being circulated in Colorado to recall a third Democratic state senator, Evie Hudak, for supporting more strict gun control. It gets easier after the first time.
Recall isn't an easy tool for the public to use. Generally speaking, disenfranchised citizens are not organized and that makes it difficult to mount political campaigns. It might be easier in Griggs County, where the population is only about 2,500, than it would be in Fargo or Bismarck. But there have been successful recall efforts in North Dakota cities -- Dickinson comes to mind.
Push voters far enough, and they'll figure out a way to set things right.