Omdah: Expect red herring on victim rights measures

GRAND FORKS -- With the gubernatorial race settled in June and the North Dakota presidential vote a foregone conclusion, excitement in the fall election may depend on Marsy's Law, an initiated amendment to the state constitution establishing a sw...

Lloyd Omdahl

GRAND FORKS -- With the gubernatorial race settled in June and the North Dakota presidential vote a foregone conclusion, excitement in the fall election may depend on Marsy’s Law, an initiated amendment to the state constitution establishing a sweeping series of new rights for crime victims.
Let’s begin with the raw facts.
Backed by a North Dakota sponsoring committee, the proposed amendment is really the brainchild of California billionaire Henry Nicholas, who is trying to cope with the 1983 murder of his sister by her ex-boyfriend.
There is little doubt that this campaign, while sponsored by a local committee, is a nationwide effort.
First, the money is coming from California. Thus far, Nicholas has been the only source of money for the North Dakota effort.
Second, Boston-based McKay-Gitcho Strategies is calling the shots and chose the advertising agency for the campaign.
Third, petition signatures were gathered by Advanced Micro Targeting.
Fourth, the language for the proposal was “boilerplate” prescribed by Nicholas. You can bet that Nicholas isn’t going to put his money into a campaign that messes with his wording.
Fifth, according to Mike Nowatzki of the Forum News Service “consulting firms in California and Las Vegas” were among those paid by the campaign.
Nicholas has dedicated more than $1 million to North Dakota. Around $220,000 has already been spent for petition circulators. It is safe to assume that Nicholas will pour in as much money as it takes.
While the North Dakota sponsoring committee is clearly nonpartisan, the campaign is being run by principals with connections to the Republican Party, most likely because they had previous contacts with Nicholas and his crusade.
The Odney advertising and public affairs agency in Bismarck was chosen to handle the account and has assigned an Odney staffer, Marsha Lemke, to run the campaign. Odney is pretty much a Republican agency.
Over upcoming months, all of these points will be cited as arguments against Marcy’s law. After all, we have had a negative predisposition against out-of-state influence since statehood.
Somewhere back in merry old England, it is said, training for hunting dogs included dragging red herring across their path to detract them from the mission at hand - catching the fox.
Marsy’s supporters will be plagued by red herring. One red herring will be out-of-staters rewriting our state Constitution; another will be the tons of outside money being spent to buy public opinion; another will be the allegation that this is a partisan issue.
None of these addresses the advantages or disadvantages of Marcy’s Law. However, it is very common strategy in public arguments to throw out red herring to divert us from the mission at hand.
If out-of-state meddling and money are a problem, we need only remember the 2014 election in which chain box stores, led by Wal-Mart, spent more than $2 million to repeal the pharmacy ownership law; out-of-state wildlife groups pumped more than $2.6 million into the conservation and parks issue, and a Washington, D.C.-based petroleum organization spent an unknown amount against the issue.
Another red herring will be whether or not Marcy’s Law belongs in the state constitution. Will Marcy’s law be valid for 50 years or more? Should these rights be insulated from the state Legislature? Some will argue that this ought to go to the Legislature first.
It is doubtful that ordinary statutes would accomplish what Marcy’s supporters hope to achieve. Rights deserve constitutional status.
Hopefully, we can disregard the red herring and focus on the fox in this important dialogue about reshaping due process in the criminal justice system.
Marcy’s Law has many complex implications, warranting a careful analysis of each one of the 17 sections. So let’s leave the red herring out of the discussion.
Omdahl is a retired professor of political science at UND and a former lieutenant governor of North Dakota.

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