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Burgum offers rare testimony to North Dakota lawmakers pitching Roosevelt library

Gov. Doug Burgum, left, answers question from members of the House Appropriations Committee's Education and Environment Division on Wednesday in the state Capitol in Bismarck. He is proposing that money from the Legacy Fund proposal be used to build the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Museum at Medora. Mike McCleary / Bismarck Tribune

BISMARCK - Gov. Doug Burgum testified Wednesday to North Dakota legislators for the first time.

Appearing for 30 minutes on Jan. 9 before the House Appropriations Committee's Education and Environment Division, the governor outlined his Legacy Fund proposal to build the Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Museum at Medora.

Burgum spoke in the state Capitol's Rough Rider Room — which pays tribute to the 26th president — and took a handful of questions from legislators. His testimony also included a video message in support from Theodore Roosevelt V, a descendant of the celebrated president.

"North Dakota has truly a unique opportunity to garner and build a state-of-the-art presidential library museum in honor of one of the most dynamic, influential and world-changing presidents in the history of the United States," Burgum told lawmakers.

"The Theodore Roosevelt Presidential Library Museum would be destined to become the No. 1 tourist attraction in the state of North Dakota."

The governor has proposed a two-to-one private match to earmark $50 million in Legacy Fund earnings to be used with $100 million in donations to build the library museum at Medora's entrance to Theodore Roosevelt National Park in western North Dakota.

The proposal is one of several "legacy projects" from Burgum's executive budget, using $300 million in Legacy Fund earnings for projects with "statewide or nationwide reach and a lasting impact for citizens."

The governor also said the library's intended location "drives the interest" from federal agencies and national organizations, such as the National Park Foundation.

"The timing for this is particularly unique, and that's why I feel a great sense of urgency that, if North Dakota puts its stake down with this matching grant, we're going to see an acceleration of partners stepping forward," Burgum said.

Bismarck Republican Rep. Mike Nathe asked the governor about support and securing private commitments to the project, which Burgum said would be enabled with early assurance on his proposal.

"If we wait 'til the last day of the session to pass this bill, I can't guarantee we're going to see donations," Burgum said. "If we said, 'Hey, we're going to do a set-aside for this thing' in the next week, I think before the end of February we'd be coming back to even saying, 'Yeah, we've got commitments showing up.'"

Burgum said the $150 million project would provide for $100 million for facilities and a $50 million endowment.

Speaking to reporters after his testimony, the governor said he may testify a few more times this session. Burgum took office in December 2016.

Governors do not often testify to legislative committees. Legislative Council Director John Bjornson said recent former governors, such as Jack Dalrymple and Ed Schafer, would occasionally offer testimony.

"They don't do it a lot, but it has been done regularly when they have an important issue or they feel strongly about something," Bjornson said.

Burgum's testimony was included as part of an overview on House Bill 1018, the 2019-21 budget for the state Department of Commerce.

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