Port: Do you just want to hear Gov. Burgum say the words "shelter-in-place"?

Burgum's approach makes sense. He's wielding a scalpel, not a sledgehammer.

Gov. Doug Burgum attempted to calm the fears of business, community and government leaders in a conference call arranged by the Greater North Dakota Chamber of Commerce Thursday, March 19. Forum file photo
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MINOT, N.D. — As I've watched critics gripe about our national and state-level response to the coronavirus pandemic, I've been struck by how often the things people are complaining about are actually good.

Nationally, President Donald Trump is under fire for an approach that emphasizes state leadership.

"Trump administration tells states to step up as governors plead for aid," Politico reports .

"10 times presidents led on national crises instead of blaming the states as Trump is doing," a USA Today headline reads .

How Trump expects our multi-tiered system of government to work is how it's designed to work. The states are supposed to be responsible for governing within their borders, with the federal government's role being mostly international policy and coordinating domestic policy.


This is called federalism, and it works wonderfully in a country as geographically and socially diverse as ours is.

When we allow it to work.

The consolidation of responsibility at the national level generally, and in the presidency, specifically, is a product of pass-the-buck politics.

We routinely allow local leaders to pass responsibility up the political ladder until whoever is in the White House must accept it, if only because there are no rungs higher.

It's a lousy way to govern. It's actually why we have such an enormous national debt. Local levels of government can't live within their means, so they ask higher levels of government for more money, and on it goes until it reaches the federal government, where the politicians finance it with deficit spending.

But I digress.

We're best served by North Dakota doing what's best for North Dakota, and Minnesota doing what's best for Minnesota, with all the states simultaneously helping one another and learning while the federal government coordinates.

For all the talk about how Trump is some monstrous authoritarian, he's showing a remarkable amount of restraint in the present situation. I'll leave it to you readers to decide if that's on purpose or not.


Speaking of North Dakota, another example of people being critical of something good is the pressure Gov. Doug Burgum is feeling to declare a "shelter-in-place" order for our state.

There has been much hoopla about North Dakota being one of just a few states which haven't yet issued that order, though yesterday Dr. Anthony Fauci, a widely-respected leader on the Trump administration's coronavirus task force, acknowledged that the states which haven't published the order are still doing plenty to fight the virus:

My question for those promoting a "shelter-in-place" order is this: What exactly do you think that will give us that we don't already have under orders issued by Burgum?

If you're looking for some new restriction or policy to aid in the virus response, why don't we discuss that, specifically?

I'm afraid that many of those demanding a "shelter-in-place" order are either waiting just to hear Burgum use the phrase "shelter-in-place," or they're motivated by partisan politics and looking to inflame public sentiment against a Republican governor.

For those of us concerned with making sound policy choices in response to the pandemic, as opposed to shallow gestures or political machinations, Burgum's approach makes sense.

He's wielding a scalpel, not a sledgehammer.


Instead of issuing broad orders, he's focused on narrowly-tailored policies addressing specific concerns.

I won't argue that he's been perfect — who has been? who could be? — but his approach is what wise, competent leadership looks like.

We may yet need more restrictions. Just yesterday, Burgum issued two more orders, these related to self-quarantines and nursing home visits .

Those were the 33rd and 34th orders issued by Burgum since this crisis began, by my count.

If you have ideas for what should be the 35th or 36th, let's talk about them, but if you just want to blow hot air about the governor saying the words "shelter-in-place," you should run along and let the grownups talk.

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Rob Port, founder of, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at .

Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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