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Thursday, January 04, 2018


GOV. DOUG BURGUM sorted through 230 applicants and selected 14 for his Higher Education task force. They are a distinguished and representative group and do not seem to have been chosen for political loyalty. The list is headed by Gerald VandeWalle, Chief Justice of the North Dakota Supreme Court; the youngest selection is Katie Mastel of Bismarck, a student leader at NDSU.

CARSON WENTZ, in a short time, has become ND’s most notable athlete. That star was dimmed by a serious knee injury ending his 2017 football season with the Philadelphia Eagles. That hasn’t stopped his admirers -- in a letter to the Forum, David LeVine wrote: “You are Carson Wentz. A once in a lifetime national representation and presentation of the state of North Dakota.” Let’s hope the star is dimmed only briefly.

CHANGE OF MIND “President Trump this year proposed to reduce Amtrak subsidies for long-distance service. We agree.” -- This unlikely quote is from a GF Herald editorial. It’s particularly surprising since Grand Forks is served by Amtrak’s Empire Builder running between Seattle and Chicago. The Herald noted that Amtrak’s long-distance routes represent only about 15 percent of its ridership, but create a $500 million loss -- about half Amtrak’s annual federal subsidy. Plus, service is often crummy. The Herald’s position is an editorial turnaround.

DON’T CRY FOR ME Like many other universities, UND required donations from sports fans to qualify for premium seats. A donation also got you into the Champions Club and was eligible for an 80 percent income tax deduction. No more -- the deductions are a casualty of the new tax bill. You can see where this leads -- UND is encouraging fans to make their 2018 donations in 2017 in order to snatch that one last deduction.

DIVERSITY AND POVERTY The U.S. Census Bureau released a report on 5-year county level trends. The percentage of minorities in ND grew. Counties in the Oil Patch became more diverse by adding workers from other states, for example, diversity in Williams County (Williston) grew from 9 to 15 percent. The already diverse Indian reservation counties (Benson, Rolette and Sioux) became even more so, the latter two over 80 percent minority. Minority percentages in Cass (Fargo) and Grand Forks counties jumped into double digits. The three aforementioned reservation counties were also the state’s largest pockets of poverty -- all over 30 percent. Grand Forks County was an outlier among larger counties with an 18 percent poverty rate, possibly skewed by college students.

AGING was most apparent in the state’s small rural counties -- ten counties had more than a quarter of their population over 65. Overall, ND is the nation’s youngest state -- its most diverse counties are also its youngest.

CAUTIONS ABOUT DIVERSITY The pros and cons of diversity were very much part of public conversations in ND during 2017, particularly, regarding refugees. John Calvert, a retired Fargo political science teacher, in a letter to the Forum, advanced the theory that increased diversity reduces social capital. That is, the extent people trust and cooperate with each other. He cited a number of prominent writers, especially Harvard’s Robert Putnam.

DIVERSITY PROPONENTS Other letter writers swiftly hit back. David Knecht of Fargo wrote, “Personally, with all our growing pains, I rejoice in the wonder and excitement of diversity.” Amy Berg of Philadelphia saw something darker in Calvert’s views, she said, “It has become popular lately to use diversity as a scapegoat for modern social problems.” Shelton Gunaratne, a retired Minnesota State professor, said he “would like to point out his (Calvert’s) lack of mindfulness and empathy for all the people whom he believes are different from his race, religion, culture and other attributes.”

CRUSHING BLOW Harvey (pop. 1,700) is the largest town in Wells County. The central ND county has lost population every decade since 1930 and Harvey has steadily lost population since 1980 when it reached a high of 2,500 residents. Harvey formed on the Canadian Pacific Railway (then Soo Line) and the railroad’s recrewing site has always been the town’s largest employer. Recently, the town was shocked to learn that, because of new systems, CPR will run trains directly from Enderlin (southwest of Fargo) to Portal (on Canadian border northwest of Minot). The changeover begins in January 2018, thereby eliminating 60 positions in Harvey. The effect of losing the related households is a crushing blow to an already declining small town.

NOT SO SUBTLE MESSAGE A Washington Post commentary by Marc Thiessen (American Enterprise Institute) focused on U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (ND). The thesis of the article was that voting “no” on the tax bill could be politically fatal for Democratic senators in Trump states. Trump had Heitkamp with him on Air Force One flying from ND -- the author believes Trump made a case for the tax bill and delivered the following message: “Do your job to deliver for America or find a new job.” It remains to be seen if Trump follows up on his threat during the 2018 elections.

DAKTOIDS: ND oil production returned to near-record levels in 2017 -- increased competitiveness was credited in part to the Dakota Access Pipeline.

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