It's political convention season, so I thought it would be a good time to visit with each of the candidates for governor to get their thoughts on some of the state's biggest issues.
This column will focus on Democratic candidate Ryan Taylor. Republican Paul Sorum will be featured next Monday, and Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple will be the following Monday.
Here are Taylor's answers to the questions:
Q. There has been vocal criticism of the state Board of Higher Education. Do you think it's time to change the structure of higher education in the state (and if so, how?) Or do you think the current system works but is undergoing some setbacks?
A. I think there's a reason we have the current system to remove politics from it. Now one thing I think is having had 20 years of one party control of the executive seat in North Dakota I think we would benefit from shuffling the deck, and that would come with a new administration.
I think we should find a Board of Higher Education that is dedicated to students. I think these are positions that should be much more meaningful than just a political appointment. I think we would benefit from changing administrations.
Even though the board is separate from the governor, I think the governor still needs to be a strong enough voice that they know where the buck stops.
Q. What do you see as the biggest challenge with K-12 education right now, and what would be your plan to address it?
A. Having been on the Education Committee each of my sessions except this time as minority leader, I think probably the biggest challenge right now is going to be confined to those schools that are being asked to grow in gigantic proportions in oil country right now.
If you're a Williston or you're a Berthold, and you're asked to accommodate all of these students that are basically coming because of oil, the state needs to take responsibility because we tax oil for that purpose. You see schools asking how they're going to grow and potentially going to their local property tax owners to grow when the growth really is based on a product that the state is reaping the benefits of.
On the macro side of K-12 education, I think we need to continue to be competitive globally in the expectations we put forth. We need very much work to make sure that seniors graduating from any school district in North Dakota are ready for college.
Q. What would you consider to be your top three priorities for the 2013 legislative session at this point in time?
A. I think a top priority is how we get oil tax revenue back to the impacted counties. I think there needs to be a severe revamping of getting the dollars to where they need to be. You know the list: infrastructure, schools, police, EMS, any of those services.
I think we need to do a better job of planning for the future, and that goes statewide, not just in oil country. This really is a pretty special moment in time. We're not going to get this opportunity again, and we can't just go a biennium at a time on this.
I think the conversation needs to involve everyone, not just those who are politically connected or on the inside track, but everyone from every corner of the state and every income status.
And I would start investing in our next generation right now, and I would certainly put forward what I've called the Lasting Harvest scholarship patterned off of the Hathaway scholarship in Wyoming.
They basically took a good share of their oil and gas revenue essentially, it's Wyoming kids going to Wyoming colleges and really giving them that opportunity to where they can go to trade school or higher ed without amassing a huge student loan debt.
As we look for a long-term plan, obviously that's where water issues come in. That's going to be part of the long-term plan.
Q. Western North Dakota's economy and infrastructure has received the most attention lately. What is your vision for the eastern half of the state?
A. I think in the east, there's going to be water issues, whether it be in Fargo or Devils Lake -- communities that want to be able to grow and have the security of knowing that they're not going to be throwing sandbags in Fargo or watching the water inch up closer and closer in Devils Lake.
A lot of standard middle-class family issues that we always see -- I think they'll want to know their kids can go to college or trade school without going into huge student loan debt. I think families want to have day care as they go into the workforce and know that their kids will be safe and well-cared-for. And I think, you know, they'll want to know that North Dakota is looking out for their quality of life as well.
Q. Why should you be North Dakota's next governor?
A. I think it's time for every voice to be heard in North Dakota. I'm not a guy that just woke up one day and said, "Well, I think I'll be governor." I'm someone that understands people at their level, and we're dedicated to this time in history and doing the right thing.
I think certain people come along at a certain time in history and, you know, I'm in this for the right reasons. We see change, and we want to make sure that North Dakota survives that change with its values intact.
My experience in the Legislature gives me an opportunity to know how the system works, but also to have come to the realization that the system hasn't worked for everybody. We want to spread this net wide and far and not just business as usual where a few people make the big decisions. We want to make sure that, whether you're even a little kid who doesn't have a vote, that we know you're important in North Dakota.