- Associated Press - Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Williston Herald, Dec. 17

Mental health picture looking up - but more is still needed

The private sector is moving to fill in the cracks of a broken mental health and human services system in the region, a trend that has many advantages. However, the state still needs to do more to ensure everyone has access to services.

Several private, nonprofit counseling services have opened their doors over the last year, with one expanding into the region earlier this month. Private operations are able to change their services more quickly than government ones, and can also add staff more quickly - if they can find qualified people.

The fact that there are more licensed counselors who can deal with a whole range of issues is a benefit to the entire community. Many of them work with programs like Medicaid, as well, so there are options for low-income members of the community and for those with private insurance.

Even with that good news, the state still needs to work to increase the availability of services so that anyone who needs mental health or human services resources can get help.

District 1 State Sen. Brad Bekkedahl has an interesting proposal to revamp the funding for those services, and we hope that once the legislative session begins his bill will find backers.

Bekkedahl’s idea is to move the funding of human services from the counties to the state, which had responsibility for them in the past. The funding would come from the state’s property tax relief fund, and counties would no longer be able to assess property taxes to pay for those services.

That would mean property owners would see a tax cut of up to 20 mills and the funding for the services would be spread more equitably across the state.

The obvious objection is that moving control of human services away from the counties would potentially make them less responsive, but Bekkedahl’s plan walks a fine line in that regard. Under the bill he’s going to propose, the state would distribute money to the counties, which would still have control of the services.

We think that’s an excellent compromise.

Williston and Williams County are in a better position than they were a few years ago. They’re also far better off than some other places. With that said, there is more to be done.

The solution to the lack of mental health and human services resources in this region is not going to come exclusively from the government or from the private sector. Both are essential to ensuring that residents have access to the care they need.


Minot Daily News, Dec. 20

Burgum approach nothing to prompt worry - yet

Some folks have expressed concern about Gov. Doug Burgum’s video address last week shortly after he officially took office. The problem was less the content than the delivery system as some did not like the one-way communication of a video.

Maybe some fear that Gov. Burgum’s vaunted technological prowess will translate into an administration that only communicates through the latest, controlled, media. However, there hardly is reason to worry at this point. It is not as if Gov. Burgum is only speaking to voters one-dimensionally; nor has he shown that he won’t address specific questions addressed to him from members of the media.

Controlling the message, as it’s referred to, has become problematic in recent years at a national level. Both the Obama administration and the Hillary Clinton campaign were criticized for not holding press conferences and/or giving interviews only to fawning pseudo-media instead of media that might ask challenging questions.

Similarly, President-elect Trump has been criticized for his use of social media, which enabled him to circumvent openly hostile media and speak directly to voters. However, Trump was also on the air frequently.

Still the past eight years in aggregate must be somewhat concerning. Some of that concern is warranted and some not, driven as it is by mainstream media’s inability create and control narratives to advance their own agendas.

Generally, yes, the trend of politicians bypassing the media to speak directly to voters must be watched, since in some cases it can allow candidates and officials to go unchallenged. However, specifically as it relates to Gov. Burgum, we are nowhere near the point of concern. Burgum seems comfortable sharing his ideas with people and is more than capable of expressing his arguments in a persuasive manner.

The new governor deserves every opportunity to show us he can advance the agenda he campaigned on and it is much too early to jump to any conclusions about how he will interact with the public.


The Bismarck Tribune, Dec. 21

Burgum quick to set the tone for his office

Gov. Doug Burgum started his term in office last week by telling his Cabinet he intends to reinvent government. He told them that members that come to him with ideas for streamlining and improving government will be the ones that have his ear. Later that same day he released a video explaining his position on the Dakota Access Pipeline.

He didn’t waste any time setting the tone of his administration. He wants to find more efficient ways to run government and he wants to spend less doing it. He also plans to use social media to get his message across, the video being an example. Burgum said he didn’t think the state did a good job of responding to social media posts by pipeline opponents and vowed to do better.

Monday when he attended the vote of the presidential electors he wore a suit coat and tie matched with jeans and cowboy boots. A somewhat more casual approach that indicated he was ready to work. When Burgum ran for governor he promised to make the state more technologically savvy, to find better ways to accomplish goals and to save money. In many ways his message was similar to President-elect Donald Trump’s call to action. Burgum wasn’t so much promising to make North Dakota great again as he was promising to advance the state at a quicker pace. He told voters he has the skills from his business successes to grow the state.

Government moves slower than business. Part of it is how we legislate - it takes time to develop and pass bills and then it takes the governor’s signature. Sometimes new laws can face legal challenges. The state’s regulatory processes mean it takes time to get projects off the ground. The often dreaded federal regulations often add time to ventures. Quick turnarounds in government can be difficult.

How the Legislature responds to Burgum could determine how quickly he can act. He irritated some legislators during the election but everyone is saying the right things at the moment. That could change when Burgum begins to advance proposals.

The bureaucracy can drag its feet when it doesn’t agree with the agenda.

The release of the video last week is an indication that Burgum won’t hesitate to go directly to the people. He may decide to bypass a press conference for a video message where he can control the content.

So the new governor faces a lot of potential challenges. However, he’s starting with a clean slate. Not having a political background he doesn’t have what some would call baggage. He doesn’t have a political history, which made him attractive to many voters. The political climate also favors Burgum. Voters like Trump and Burgum because they promise to do things differently. There should be a honeymoon period for both men, but it could be brief. In North Dakota, dealing with the revenue shortfall won’t come without some pain. How North Dakotans react to that remains to be seen.

Overall, there should be an optimistic mood in the state. A new governor, a new direction and the potential for growth. It will be interesting to see how Burgum handles the challenges.

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