By David Luessen
The Democratic candidate for the North Dakota Governor's Office, Ryan Taylor, made a campaign stop at the Valley City Times-Record last week.
Taylor was elected to the state senate in 2002 in District 7, which included all of McHenry and Pierce Counties and parts of Benson and Sheridan Counties. He has been re-elected twice in that district while serving on the education, transportation and agriculture committees and was elected Senate Minority Leader. Outside of Bismarck he is a cattle rancher and a writer, with degrees from North Dakota State University in agricultural economics and mass communications. He writes "Cowboy Logic," a column printed in seven U.S. and Canadian publications. Taylor is married with three kids and 220 head of cattle on his family's 109-year-old farmstead.
"I returned to the ranch after college," he said. "My dad had contracted Parkinson's Disease and we went home to take over the ranch. I always did some writing on the side to supplement."
What are your major campaign platforms?
"We talk about the "Three E's' to a great extent: Energy, education and ethics. Energy is a real front-burner issue in North Dakota. When we look at energy, we look at all of North Dakota -- whether you're in the west, central or east -- the importance of getting the oil but doing it with our values intact.
The challenges that we see in the communities out there are real. How we take care of the communities in terms of public safety, the schools that need expansion, the roads, the housing, to do a better job there a lot of that's tied to resources and you don't get it done with a hold-even budget. You don't get it done by simply boasting about the $2 billion surplus we have in Bismarck, you have to put it to work, and part of putting it to work is you can't do it on the cheap.
"All of North Dakota has something at stake. This is a one-time harvest, we won't get another chance at this. As much as we talk about oil, farming still built North Dakota and it's still our No. 1 industry, so we don't forget about agriculture and we don't forget about central and eastern North Dakota. Counties and townships still need state assistance for roads that are out of date for hauling our crops and cattle. What can we do about flood prevention and start preventing that damage? Property tax relief, this is something we can afford to do with the surplus we have.
"Education is the place we go when we want to make an investment that lasts beyond oil. We debate whether this oil will go 20 years, 30 years, but it will come to an end. To get to the next economy after oil, it's really going to depend on the money we invest in our young people. We have a policy to cut student loan debt in half. The average student now owes $25,000 in North Dakota. We can afford to take that burden down.
"The idea here is that oil will have it's day and we want to get every drop of it. But after that, our economy is going to be led by the people we educate. We need to make those investments and we can afford to do that. At our debates last week, the Governor said "well some students might owe $25,000 and that's too bad.' Well, the leadership is not to say that "it's too bad,' it's to say "this can be better.'"
And the third "E?'
"Then we talk about ethics. It doesn't necessarily get people as fired up as some of us would think it should, but at this time in North Dakota, looking at how campaigns are funded, North Dakota got a grade of F on the State Integrity Foundation's report in terms of corruptibility. They said we were 43rd out of 50. It didn't say we are necessarily the most corrupt, but we don't have the framework in place when it comes to how we finance campaigns. I think that's especially risky now given the development we have in the west. The governor has chair of the Industrial Commission, he's actually overseeing the regulations that these companies perform under. There shouldn't be a question that if you get a check for $25,000 from one of the largest oil drillers in the state, do they want more than a thank-you note? There's the distinct possibility that this could be detrimental. We should make sure the elections belong to the people, not just the people with money."
What do you know about the Sheyenne River and Devils Lake flooding?
"Running state wide, we know the concerns of Devils Lake and the farmland that's been lost, and I've met with folks up and down the river here, too. I've heard of the City Councils from this town and Lisbon asking the state for resources to help alleviate flood risk whether it comes from snow melt, rainfall or someday Devils Lake. There's a matter of resources out there so you can be relieved from that risk, but it doesn't come for free and you can't do it all locally of the backs of property tax payers, the state has the ability to help.
"Devils Lake doesn't want to lose any more land or homes, and people up and down the valley don't want to lose their land or homes to it either. The way that I lead is to bring everyone together and start talking about solutions, because we're all in this together and we've got to figure this out. If it means more money to help Valley City handle more water, if it means money to stem some of the water coming into the basin, we've got resources to handle that as well."
Sulfate levels in the Sheyenne River have been suspended by the governor for a period of four months. Local groups say Lake Ashtabula can dilute sulfates for three months before the levels in the river begin to rise. The Sheyenne River is the most biologically diverse waterway in the state. If a negative impact is found on the river, will you go to Devils Lake and turn off the faucet?
"We need to know exactly what those sulfate levels will do and to what forms of life.
"We'd have to make that decision and do what's best for the entire basin. But, I can't say I know enough now about which flora and fauna will be most impacted, but if we know it has a very detrimental impact then we'll have to make those decisions. Can we keep more water out of the basin? Are we going to count on the lake levels reducing naturally? Are there times in the year when water can come down the channel that would be less destructive?
"We know as cattle ranchers that sulfates in the water can affect the health of our animals, and I believe in science, so let's see where we are at here."
The city of Sanborn is at odds with the Burlington Northern-Sante Fe railroad. Trains have been blocking the only paved roads in and out of the town for longer than state law allows for many years. Sanborn has a very active fire department in the city, and emergency responders fear being kept out of the city if an emergency arises. Could you, as governor, alleviate this problem?
"Within statute, and I remember this from my time in the transportation committee, they're not supposed to block an artery for emergency services for 10 minutes.
"There's a couple things for a local situation like that, and it's impeding public safety and impeding emergency services. There's one way to look at it and it doesn't mean going to the point of an overpass or an underpass. As governor, I'm not afraid to get on the horn and talk to the president of BNSF and tell him this is a situation that goes against our state law. This is a law that says "10 minutes' and you're breaking the law. If you continue to break the law, I'd ask my legislature to increase the fines to the point where you're not going to want to break the law. In a case like that they have to actually feel it.
"And if rail traffic has gotten to the point where they need another track, then let's see if we need to partner up and get some infrastructure built."