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Published February 24, 2014, 09:27 AM

ND Farm Bureau off on peculiar campaign

The NDFB is advancing a hubristic notion that what’s good for the Farm Bureau is good for North Dakota. It follows that the organization would attempt to work its will and impose a self-serving agenda on the state via a compliant Legislature and a hand-picked ag commissioner. Thoughtful North Dakotans should say “no” to that aim.

By: Fargo Forum Editorial Board, Forum News Service

The North Dakota Farm Bureau seems to be having an identity crisis. The venerable farm organization has put itself between a rock and a hard place with recent Janus-like performances. It seems to be trying to be its traditional self, and at the same time morph into the state’s most powerful special-interest political pressure group.

The Farm Bureau certainly can have it both ways if its leadership wants to go there. The bureau always has been politically active, but a new chapter seems to be a-writing. Recent events suggest the escalation is a bad idea, not only in substance but also in the ham-handed incompetence the bureau’s leaders demonstrated when they jumped into the deep end of North Dakota’s political pool. Thus far, their swimming skills are less than Olympic class.

A few weeks ago, bureau leaders announced with some fanfare that they intended to pursue a ballot measure they said would reform property taxes. When criticized in a Forum editorial (and elsewhere) as a poorly researched and ultimately unworkable scheme, NDFB President Doyle Johannes chastised The Forum for being for government and against the people.

Lo and behold, a few days later, the organization scrapped the ballot effort, saying it had been poorly researched and, as proposed, was unworkable. If ever there was a “we-told-you-so” moment, well …

While scraping egg off its collective face because of the ballot measure stumble, the bureau announced, again to much fanfare, that it would back a challenger to state Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring for reasons that seem phony.

First, Goehring has been fairly described as “the commissioner from the Farm Bureau,” where, before his political life, he was active and loyal. In his runs for office, he has had the enthusiastic support of the NDFB. While in office, he has reliably danced to the Farm Bureau’s tune, most of the time.

Among the alleged concerns the bureau has with Goehring is a mini-flap in the ag office where he foolishly made remarks about women that got him into trouble. He quickly apologized and embraced appropriate human resource requirements to set the matter right. The Farm Bureau’s take? They used the incident as a hook to come out against the commissioner and, for good measure, fielded a female candidate to challenge him at the state Republican convention. How subtle is that?

The smirk-worthy irony, of course, is that most North Dakotans would be hard-pressed to characterize the Farm Bureau as a champion of women in the workplace.

The NDFB is advancing a hubristic notion that what’s good for the Farm Bureau is good for North Dakota. It follows that the organization would attempt to work its will and impose a self-serving agenda on the state via a compliant Legislature and a hand-picked ag commissioner. Thoughtful North Dakotans should say “no” to that aim.

Editor’s note: This opinion piece ran in the Fargo (N.D.) Forum Feb. 11.

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