Excerpts from recent North Dakota editorials

The Forum, Fargo, Sept. 14, 2013

A real test for free speech

No matter the outrage most North Dakotans feel about a white supremacist’s attempt to take over the small Grant County town of Leith, Craig Cobb has broken no laws thus far and is exercising his rights within the strictures of the U.S. Constitution. And if a former North Dakotan leads a protest in Leith against Cobb and his associates, the same constitutional protections and privileges apply to him and his like-minded friends.

We say “most North Dakotans” are outraged because it is likely more of our neighbors and friends than polite company cares to admit share Cobb’s disgusting racial beliefs and nonsensical neo-Nazi philosophy. Just scratch the patina, probe a bit into endemic attitudes, and you’ll find racism, subtle but virulent.

Call what Cobb & Company are up to “hate speech” if you will. But that ubiquitous phrase has become almost meaningless in part because anyone who feels offended by a critical or contemptible remark defines it as hate speech. Merely voicing a hateful doctrine is different from using speech to incite violent behavior. Offensive speech does not necessarily qualify as hate speech. The line can be fuzzy, but there is a constitutional line. The First Amendment was not adopted to protect North Dakota-nice speech. There is nothing in the Bill of Rights, nor should there be, that protects any of us from being offended by the words of another.

Thank God and the founders for that.

The situation at Leith escalated this month when it was announced that Jeff Schoep, commander of the National Socialist Movement, plans to visit the town. It further heated up when former North Dakotan Scott Garman and friends said they were organizing a protest in Leith in response to Schoep’s visit.

Schoep and his ilk are the real thing: They like some of the ideas Adolf Hitler promoted in the failed Third Reich. They fly flags that feature the swastika. They call units of their movement “stormtroops.” They are unapologetic racists. They are associated with a network of white supremacist organizations and individuals. They should be made to feel unwelcome in Leith or anywhere else.

The protest to be led by Garman (formerly of Casselton, N.D.) and two Moorhead natives is in keeping with the American tradition and cherished right of speaking out when wrongdoing is afoot. The best offense to offensive free speech is enlightened free speech, not shouting down the other’s speech. Not censorship. Not threats of violence.

In the end, vigorous and right-minded free speech will triumph over the grim bigotry that seems to motivate Cobb, Schoep and their racist allies.


The Bismarck Tribune, Bismarck, Sept. 16, 2013

State shouldn’t choose winners, losers in oil patch

Moves to preserve the Killdeer Mountain battlefield site have raised important questions about private property rights, development and historic preservation.

Agreed, the battlefield has significant historical and cultural value for many people, including the state Indian tribes. However, the battlefield isn’t public property. It’s private land. It has belonged to the same ranching family since 1928. North Dakotans historically have been protective of private property rights and anyone interested in overriding them will find a rough road.

It’s all an issue because the Basin Electric Power Cooperative has asked the North Dakota Public Service Commission for permission to run a transmission line across the battlefield. The co-op recently withdrew a request to place a substation there, in an effort to appease opposition. Basin would pay the property owners for the necessary easements.

Several groups have asked the PSC to deny Basin’s routing of the power line across the battlefield.

The PSC’s decision-making process has been complicated by the National Park Service, which provided $90,000 from its American Battlefield Protection Program to study the battlefield site for possible inclusion in the National Register of Historic Places. The idea, it appears, is to slow down the PSC’s decision-making process. A similar study was proposed to the North Dakota Legislature, but that body declined to fund it.

Battlefield owner Craig Dvirnak is neutral on the transmission line and opposed to the study. He and some of the other landowners in the area have been left out of the discussion. That seems to be a colossal mistake.

If government restricts the use of Dvirnak’s six sections, over his objections, would it be considered a taking? How would he be compensated? Who would compensate him?

There’s no obvious public or private group waiting in the wings to make an offer to purchase Dvirnak’s property for the sake of preservation, even if he were a willing seller and, from his public comments, that seems unlikely.

It’s important to note that Craig Dvirnak and his family have been generous about allowing people interested in Killdeer Mountain battlefield to have reasonable access to the site. Not too long ago, the family donated artifacts found on the site to Dickinson State University. They have been good stewards of the battlefield.

North Dakota’s Indian tribes asked the PSC to deny Basin’s requests.

It’s a mess.

Basin Electric has a history of being a good corporate citizen — after all, it’s member-owned.

The co-op has worked in good faith with the landowner and the PSC.

It was guided by the Legislature’s rejection of the study.

If the battlefield needed to be preserved, local and state government, along with private citizens, should have raised the funds to ensure its future.

If they want to preserve it now, those same parties must work with the landowner to achieve their goal.

There are ways that would allow the Dvirnak family to continue to farm the battlefield without putting it at risk.

The PSC should not use the preservation of the battlefield to reject Basin’s proposal without knowing that there are means and methods in place to do so, and that the Dvirnaks would be agreeable.

We stand firm with the landowner.


Williston Herald, Williston, Sept. 14, 2013

Commission should have open minds when considering mobile businesses

It is beginning to look like the city of Williston will put a six-month moratorium on mobile businesses, with a plan of studying the issue before allowing new businesses to apply.

We support the moratorium. It is always a good idea to take a step backwards and take time to understand what is good and bad for the city before creating regulations that will impact the lives of businessmen and businesswomen in the area.

When discussing the moratorium, the city commission was clear that two existing businesses — a veterinarian and a chiropractor — would not be impacted. Those two businesses will be excluded and can continue to operate.

That decision was also proper. Both businesses have proven popular and successful in and around Williston, and while the issue of mobile businesses is being discussed, allowing them to continue makes sense.

So far, the city has done well with this issue. But as the idea of mobile businesses, especially what is and isn’t allowed is debated at city hall, we urge the city to lean toward permitting businesspeople to operate rather than shutting them down.

If a veterinarian and a chiropractor are OK, which they appear to be, where do you draw the line? The city has already banned mobile food vendors, a decision that was made without much controversy.

But there are entrepreneurs out there, much like chiropractor Stephen Alexander and veterinarian Vince Stenson, who are looking at Williston and the Bakken region and dreaming that they can offer their services to the community.

While we support the city’s effort to create rules and come up with guidelines to be used when future mobile businesses want to apply, we urge the city and the commission to keep the door open for others.

Alexander and Stenson have proven that someone who thinks out of the box can benefit the area and others may be able to do the same.

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