Omdahl: It’s ‘41-59 or Fight’ in Bakken country
In our last column, we solved the problem of poverty by exhorting Christian churches to restore New Testament communal responsibility through annual food drives. It wasn’t much of a solution. But this is North Dakota.
This week, we need to address the growing discontent among the local governments in the Bakken.
They have been experiencing widespread shock as thousands of students have converged on schools, lawlessness has become commonplace, medical needs have skyrocketed, roads have been hammered into dust, and infrastructure has been taxed to the limit.
While the Bakken’s local governments have been coping with these impacts, the state government has been hogging the tax money, cutting taxes all over the state and socking billions in untouchable savings accounts. Needless to say, the anger among the local officials in Bakken country is putting hornets to shame.
My solution is secession and creation of a new state.
This is not a new idea. Eleven counties in Colorado voted on the question of secession last year with mixed results but 44,000 citizens did vote to go. A number of counties in northern California also voted to abandon Los Angeles and become a new state called Jefferson.
Secession is an American idea through and through, starting with the Declaration of Independence. Secession was successful in 1863 when 50 Virginia counties balked at going with the slaveholders and became West Virginia.
The eight counties in the heart of the Bakken have a population of 83,000 — well within the requirements of the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, the bible for creating new states. The Ordinance required a population of only 60,000.
Once this benchmark was reached, a constitution was to be drafted providing for a bill of rights, promotion of education and renouncement of slavery. The Bakken folks would buy that.
Selection of a site for the Bakken capitol would be contentious. Most native Dakotans know how Bismarck and Alexander McKenzie stole the capitol on a train that rolled through Yankton, S.D., in the middle of the night.
In the first state constitutional convention, Grand Forks did its utmost to get the capitol but the Bismarck wheeler-dealers bought support by giving every sizeable community a college or some other institution.
That did not put the issue to rest. When the state capitol burned in 1930, Jamestown made its move, alleging that the city was more centrally located than Bismarck.
The issue appeared on the ballot in 1932 and Jamestown lost by a vote of 13 percent to 87 percent.
Many folks voted against the move because they worried that those coming to testify on legislation would get two institutions in Jamestown mixed up and may not recognize the mistake.
We can anticipate that the location of the capitol in Bakken will be equally as contentious, with Williston, Watford City and Dickinson all putting in strong bids. Politics being what it is, the capitol would probably end up in Grassy Butte.
History teaches us that marketing is critical. Slogans have been invaluable, e.g. “Remember the Alamo,” “54-40 or Fight,” and “Remember the Maine.”
The slogan for the Bakken people will be “41-59 or Fight” — that’s the division of oil revenue proposed by the oil-producing counties.
While secession from the state may seem outlandish, we shouldn’t forget that there are independent countries with fewer people than Bakken, e.g. Cayman, Liechtenstein and Monaco. Nationhood could mean a seat at the United Nations.
In order to have room for compromise, maybe the Bakken folks ought to propose nationhood and then settle for statehood. They may not even get that, but if they could get 41-59 without fighting it would be the best of bargains.
Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and a retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.