Much Ado About Nothing

Much has been said in the North Dakota Democrat Blog-o-Sphere about Gov. John Hoeven’s involvement in the situation between North Dakota State University President Joseph Chapman and the Chancellor of the North Dakota Board of Higher Education Robert Potts. Potts announced on June 30 that he was resigning as chancellor, with a year left on his three-year employment contract.

Rick Gion, Communications Director at the North Dakota Democratic-NPL characterizes Gov. Hoeven’s involvement as “meddling.” Mr. Gion seems to think that the governor shouldn’t be involved in dealing with public officials that he appointed. I wonder whom exactly it is that he and his party would have deal with these matters?

Dale Wetzel with Associated Press wrote that in an opinion by Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem “Gov. John Hoeven became involved, meeting with board members John Q. Paulsen and Richie Smith in Fargo in late February to discuss Potts’ job performance as the top administrator of North Dakota’s university system.” Wetzel went on to say “Stenehjem’s opinion concludes board members did nothing illegal, although it depicts a swirl of behind-the-scenes conversations about Potts’ job performance, involving Chapman, Hoeven and board members. Potts’ own job evaluations, including one given to the chancellor last month, were generally favorable.”

Of course, Mr. Gion’s is a political operative trying to get his candidates elected, but Bill Brudvik is a lawyer asking the people of North Dakota to elect him as the top lawyer in the state. One would think that he would want to stay above the partisanship and run a campaign in the merits of his resume. It seems this is not the case.

Brudvik released a statement where he said the following: ““North Dakota’s open meetings laws exist to insure that the deliberations and decisions of public bodies be made in an open and public forum. Even the appearance of impropriety should be avoided. This recent opinion substantially weakened the state’s open meetings laws.”

Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem wrote a rebuttal to Brudvik’s claims in the Grand Forks Herald.

While that sounds nice and good, he is referring to the fact that Hoeven met with board members individually. Generally, open meeting laws apply to “official business” meetings where minutes are taken and decisions are made. Claiming that one-on-one, or two-on-one meetings between the Governor and members of the Board of Higher Education is a stretch, and clearly politically rather than legally based.

Now we get into the crux of the matter, the Democrats are pulling the old reliable “it’s not the act that was bad, it was the cover-up.” While that may be true in some cases, one must keep in perspective that if the act was not wrong, maybe the reason that there was a so-called “cover-up” is because it is human nature to become confused and defensive when you are accused of doing something wrong. Our politicians here in North Dakota don’t get much experience in damage control because frankly, they don’t do much damage in the first place.

Essentially, Hoeven is being accused of lying when he said he “never met with the board.” Funny thing is, no one is accusing him of meeting with the board – only the members of the board. Personally, I would have a problem with a Governor if he DID NOT interact with such members in a time of transition – but hey, that’s just me.

Next comes the issue of the “bad cell phone” during the call to the News and Views program.

During the interview the Democrats refer to on their own blog HERE

Shaw: This is a yes or no question. Have you talked to members of the State Board of Higher Education about Dr. Potts and his future?

Hoeven: You know, personnel issues are really the purview of the board, and I think I’ve always been very clear that when it comes to dealing with the chancellor, the chancellor’s office and the university presidents, that’s their (the board’s) responsibility to make those decisions.

Shaw: So, is that a no then? You have not had discussions with the state board, any members of the state board about Dr. Potts?

Hoeven: That’s it. You know, that’s a personnel decision. That’s something, the board needs to make those decisions, whether it’s the chancellor, the university system office or the university presidents, and I think I’ve always been very clear on that.

Mr. Gion in another post points out a quote by the Governor in another Associated Press article by Dale Wetzel: “”I am on a cell phone, I am trying to pick up his questions as well as I can,” Hoeven said Friday in describing the conversation. Early in the interview itself, Hoeven remarked about how he was traveling on a bus and how it “was a little loud here.”

Mr. Gion later quips

If your cell phone reception was not good or was muffled by noise, would you answer critical questions about something very important on the record to a reporter? I wouldn’t. Sounds like a lame excuse to me.

Let us Flashback to when the Democratic Party was under fire for taking illegal corporate donations to fund it’s convention events shall we?

As Rob here at SayAnything reported on May 15th of this year, and the Grand Forks Herald dug up “North Dakota’s Democratic Party will return $44,000 in corporate donations from five companies that were used to finance the party’s state convention, its director said.

The money is being refunded to “remove any possible question in the mind of the public about our party’s commitment to observe the highest ethical standards in the conduct of its finances,” Jim Fuglie said in a statement Friday. He could not be reached to elaborate.”

Ironicly, on the Scott Hennen program at the time, Democratic Chairman Jim Fuglie also had cell phone issues when answering to the charges:

Scott Hennen:I had hoped to clear up a few of these questions in a scheduled interview with Mr. Fuglie this past Tuesday on Hot Talk. We were most appreciative that he was willing to participate (since we seem to be among only a handful of media types willing to ask tough questions of anyone with a (D) attached to their name.) As it turns out, even the agreed to interview was a charade. I’m guessing he regretted agreeing to the interview and quickly found a way out. He begins the interview with a disclaimer that he is on a cell phone and he “hopes the signal is ok.” It was just fine.

Hennen in the same post published an email that Fuglie sent to Hennen’s producer (typically a no-no in the radio world, but it’s Hennen’s call and his blog:

—– Original Message —–
From: Jim Fuglie
To: ‘Chris Walters’
Sent: Tuesday, May 09, 2006 11:56 AM
Subject: RE: Hot talk

Well, sh*t [edited]. Stupid me. Cell phone battery went dead. Sorry. I’m just arrived at the office. I’m in today, then gone the rest of the week. I think the story is a dead horse now anyway, so I don’t see any more reason to kick it around. Jim

For a more complete commentary on Fuglie’s lame phone excuses read Brenalo’s post at Taking Back ND.

By now you have probably realized why I have titled this entry “Much Ado About Nothing” – because I really think this is a non-story that the Democrats are placing in the public record to use against Hoeven and/or Stenehjem in 2008 and beyond. It’s a smart political play that shows that their side is learning how to play hardball politics, but is that ability really what’s important for the leaders of this state?


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