Community Opinion

Upside Down Under

There’s a session in session…..

Walk into the building and smell the aroma of fresh, baked bread. Walk through the corridor, and there’s a sharply dressed man reading the Western Producer while getting his shoes shined.

By Marvin Baker

There’s people buzzing all around including bus loads of school kids who are here for a lesson in government.

It’s the state capitol in Bismarck, and when the Legislature is in session, it’s a busy place as one might expect. Every two years the Legislature meets for three or four months to take care of business that involves the entire state. There’s a session in session right now.

The school kids, who usually sit up high on a balcony and watch government in action down below, would never get the kind of information they get from actually being there. Normally, there’s a different school every day and they rotate for as long as the session is taking place. A lot of times, and when the schedule permits, the students are allowed to go onto the floor and meet with their local lawmaker. That, too, is a big motivator for students and many of them seek out politics just from that little bit of exposure.

That’s just a portion of what’s going on. The committee rooms in the capitol are usually full of people who show up for and against bills that are introduced. Sometimes people are packed in like sardines, and sometimes the meetings get really heated. But that just shows the passion people have for democracy in the state of North Dakota.

People who don’t frequent the capitol usually want access to the governor and want to have a visit. Some get that opportunity, believe it or not, depending on the circumstance.

Some years ago, the North Dakota Newspaper Association sponsored a program called “Editor for a Day.” It was a platform for newspaper editors across the state to get close access to the Legislature and get their questions answered. A local editor was allowed to sit in next to their local legislator and chat with them while bills were being debated.

There was, however, a catch. When an editor got on the schedule, that person was required to bring a copy of his or her newspaper for every senator and house member. That was a way, through NDNA, for a community to showcase itself- because let’s face it, there are communities that some legislators have never seen.

Creating an edition for the Legislature was an opportunity to not only plug what each community had to offer, but for ordinary people to have letters to the editor printed and then presented in that particular newspaper and passed around the capitol.

Occasionally, the legislators would take notice of something going on somewhere that doesn’t seem to get solved. As an example, several years ago there was a secluded area in Mandan where a lot of items that shouldn’t be in a landfill were being dumped. They included PCB barrels, tires, leftover concrete and even old car parts. An article appeared in the Mandan News that went to the Legislature. It most likely embarrassed Sen. Dwight Cook, R-Mandan, and action was taken to clean up the mess.

Another situation surfaced in Linton, no pun intended, when the road in the city park continued to go under water during heavy rains. This went on a long time, and after an article about it was in the Emmons County Record that showed up at the Legislature, there was suddenly a push to have the road built up.

I’d be remiss if not to mention the importance of this day to young reporters and editors. In a lot of cases, this is their best opportunity to be right in the middle of something bigger than themselves, and it often pays off. The experience leaves a positive impression on those attending, and they stay that path their entire careers.

NDNA has a new program for newspaper staff, and we’ll have to see if it measures up to Editor for a Day.

Ever since Ben Franklin’s Pennsylvania Gazette, there’s been a close relationship between government and newspapers. The newspaper has always been considered the local “watchdog” to see that government stays on the right path.

Whether it was Dakota Territory becoming a state, the burning of the state capitol, wild Bill Langer’s shenanigans or even the days following 9/11, newspapers have always been there.