MINOT, N.D. — I get a lot of feedback from you readers. That's a great thing! It means you're reading. Also, I enjoy interacting with you. Even those of you who think I'm full of it.
I thought it might be fun to take some of the messages I get from you and respond in column form.
If you want to reach me, email firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm going to try and do this every Friday, but feel free to fire away whenever. Questions may be edited for clarity.
Now, to the questions!
Brandon writes: I am not a Forum subscriber. However, sometimes I do catch your podcast — and, often, I like it. I've had a few thoughts over the past week, though; and, since you're a person of influence, I thought I'd share them with you.
Question 1) Why has no one been asking whether the governor actually has the authority to close local school districts? Schools are formed by local communities, run by local school boards, funded by local mill levies, and are staffed by locally hired teachers and support staff. Personally, I'm glad the schools are closed, but shouldn't this question be examined, so we know where the line is between Bismarck's overreach and prudence in an emergency? Can the governor shut down schools by mandate, or can he just threaten to pull accreditation and state-funding if they choose to continue operating? The distinction is slight but significant. It tells us who actually owns the schools.
Question 2) In other states and in municipalities outside of North Dakota, might the banning of public gatherings be interpreted as a temporary suspension of the right to assembly?
These two questions are not appropriate for the current time, I know.
This is absolutely the right time for these questions. We should never allow emergent situations to undermine the rule of law. If someone like a governor wants to exercise the dramatic powers of his/her office, they should cite the law granting them that authority.
To your first question, you can actually read Governor Doug Burgum's executive order closing the schools right here.
This is what he cites for authority to close the schools:
- Article V, Section 1 of the state constitution
- Chapter 37-17.1 of the North Dakota Century Code
- Chapter 23-07.6 of the North Dakota Century Code
Article V relates to executive powers, and all section 1 says is that the executive powers of the State of North Dakota are vested in the governor.
Section 37-17.1 of the North Dakota Century Code relates to emergency services. It states that the "governor is responsible to minimize or avert the adverse effects of a disaster or emergency" and that he may "issue executive orders and proclamations" which "have the force of law." When does an emergency exist? When the governor declares one. The law defines an emergency as "any situation that is determined by the governor to require state or state and federal response or mitigation actions to protect lives and property, to provide for public health and safety, or to avert or lessen the threat of a disaster."
Chapter 23-07.6 deals with the state's authority to quarantine or confine people to stop the spread of infectious disease.
As for the right to assembly, that's a little trickier. If you and I wanted to get together and exercise the "right of the people peaceably to assemble" from the First Amendment, there isn't much the government can do to stop us. That's why you're hearing leaders like Burgum urging people to exercise personal responsibility to stop the spread of the virus, a call we should all be heeding.
Brandon sent in his question before Burgum ordered closures for the state's businesses. You can read that executive order here. It's premised on the same law stated above.
Finally, I'm glad you enjoy the podcast (information on subscribing here), but you should know that the money which pays me to create that sort of content comes from Forum Communications. When you subscribe — it's only $10 per month for all of our content! — it helps support people like me.
Harlan writes: Most of us know that the government has too many regulations, but if they give them up they will give up one aspect of control over us. Most of the federal regulations should be turned over to the states. Most states, save for the left and right coasts, would do a much better job at controlling things in our life. The only one you mentioned in today's message was alleviating control over truckers. Maybe it would be OK for some commodities but for the most part, they need to be controlled and that is one where I think the feds need to be involved. Another thing: we have had the partial government shutdowns. Did you miss any of the services? I think that is a good indication they are unnecessary. Anyway, good observations on your part. I always read your columns.
Harlan is responding to my recent column about the regulations the state and federal governments are waiving as part of their response to the coronavirus situation. I agree that it's hard to get the government to give up control over, well, anything. This is why situations like the one we're in are the perfect time to have a debate over what the government should, and should not, be regulating.
If it's OK to grant some reciprocity to medical licenses from other states right now, why shouldn't it always be OK?
As Harlan notes, you can also make this argument when our intractable national politics force another government shutdown. If the government stops doing something, and life goes on as normal, did we really need the government to do it?
Which isn't to say that we don't need government. We do. Just not all of it that we have currently. We should always be willing to ask: Do we need this thing the government is doing?
Jeff writes: Most of the columns you try to write seem like they are written by an elementary student. Did you even graduate high school? No other word to describe you but "sucky." Eat another donut you big negative Democrat.
I'm a proud alum of Minot High School, actually.
Class of 1999, as it happens.
But I am a college dropout if that helps you. I tried for a year at North Dakota State University, but at that point in my life I didn't know what I wanted to do. I was drifting, and focusing a bit too much on drinking, and it turned out getting a job was a much better choice for me. It's not a path I'd endorse for anyone else, but I ended up finding success anyway.
Chalk one up for the school of hard knocks, I suppose.
Most of the criticisms of my writing tend to focus on my propensity to use big words — I admit it, I love vocabulary — but here you are thinking I'm too elementary. I did get a good chuckle out of someone deploying "sucky" as a pejorative in a gripe about erudition.
As for the donuts and the Democrats, the latter wouldn't have me, and my waistline indicates I need little encouragement towards the former.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.