North Dakota Governor Burgum Talks DAPL, Discrimination and About Those Jeans

Part I of II: The first-time political office holder is facing budget issues and a potential environmental disaster at the DAPL protest site

FARGO, N.D. — North Dakota Governor Doug Burgum has had a very busy first couple of months in office.

The first-time political office holder is facing budget issues and a potential environmental disaster at the DAPL protest site.

We sat down for an interview with the governor on Friday.

Alison Voorhees: Governor Burgum, thank you for joining us to answer a few questions about your first couple of months in office.

TJ Nelson: We want to begin with DAPL. You issued an evacuation order on Wednesday to clear out the main protest camp over concerns of flooding and a possible environmental disaster. But what steps are you taking to make sure protesters leave, by February 22nd?

Governor Doug Burgum: Well, I think we should talk first a little bit about the conditions in the camp. One time, we had a peak population of over 10,000 people staying there which would make it one of the larger cities in our state. This is a place that’s got no streets, no sewer or water, no fire, no police, no form of government, leadership is fractioned. Some of the people that are there, as we’ve come to understand the conditions of the camp, some of these people are actually homeless. We believe there are homeless veterans that are in the camp that arrived in December. We’ve got other people that may not have a place to go so one of the things that we’re doing as part of the cleanup is setting up, in conjunction with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, a transition center where we can help provide people whether they need health assessments, behavioral health or transportation to try and really take care of the people who may find themselves living in a place that’s dangerous. From a health standpoint, it needs to be cleaned up. From an environmental-ecological standpoint, we’ve got the potential for dangerous flooding.  So we want to make sure we help these people get to where they need to go to.

AV: We have all watched the troubles with President Trump’s Executive Order restricting travel from seven Muslim majority countries. The North Dakota Legislature is now looking at the issue of clamping down on refugee resettlement. Do you support those actions?

GB: I think it’s appropriate for us as a country given that we continue to be observed both abroad and here that acts of terrorism as something that threatens the safety of people in many countries. So I think it’s appropriate because one of the roles of government is make sure your people are all safe. But having said that, we’re also a nation that’s been built on two founding principles: one is immigration the other is religious freedom. I think the challenge that we have to find or the balance we have to find as a country is how do we balance or make sure everybody is safe but making sure that we stay true to the principles that helped us become the country we are.

TJ: Governor, you have deep ties to  Microsoft which has been a pioneer in workplace diversity. It has an employee resource group called GLEAM for its LGBTQ employees. But the fact remains, in North Dakota, you can still be fired for your sexual identity. The house recently defeated a bill for LGBTQ protections for the fourth time in eight years. Do you support that vote?

GB: No I don’t support the vote and I think everybody knows that. Long before Microsoft…Great Plains 20 years ago, the company that predated what now has become in the last 16 years the Microsoft Fargo Campus, we had spousal benefits for domestic partners and we understood as the whole tech industry understood that if you want you need to be welcoming you can’t believe in discrimination of any kind. It’s the right thing to do. I think morally, but it’s also the right thing to do economically from an economic development standpoint and so I would just call the vote disappointing and it’s one of those things that I hope it comes up every two years and at some point we’ll catch up with the rest of the world. I think as North Dakotans, we want to be a place where we’re about non-discrimination. That’s the kind of place we want to be and I think we’ll get there.

TJ: Finally, we hear you had a problem with your attire on the Senate floor the other day. It got a lot of response on social media. Do you think rules need to be relaxed for modern times?

GB: We’ll I don’t know…

TJ: You’ve got your jeans on right now.

AV: We were debating the idea.

TJ: If I could take the tie off I would too.

GB: Again, it was to me, a sort of no worries no issue thing. There were some kids from Centennial Elementary School out there for school day. Senator John Casper from Fargo said ‘Hey do you want to get a picture taken with them?’ and I said absolutely. Rolled in there with a bunch of parents who also wore inappropriate attire and we got our picture taken and when we left someone stopped me to chat and I chatted about thirty seconds too long and was asked to leave. But I was happy to comply because I respect the rules that they have.

TJ: Have you seen or read any of the comments? It’s kind of both sides of this thing.

GB: I don’t spend really any time on social media and I don’t worry about that. The whole thing with me coming from the tech industry if you go into any meeting in Silicon Valley or in Seattle at Microsoft, the worst dressed person you know who hadn’t shaved who was the geekiest looking person in the room might be the smartest person in the room, might have the best idea in the room and might be the richest person in the room in terms of the success of what they had. So, there’s no correlation in my mind between what people wear or how they look and what they can contribute to a process.  If I thought there was, if I thought I could be a better governor by wearing a tie everyday I’d wear two of them, you know, every day. If I thought that would make me smarter or help me lead better but I just haven’t seen a correlation between the two and so. I mean there’s times where it’s appropriate and I think you want to honor the office and do that and always be respectful. But you know every day I go to work, grateful, along with the first lady, I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to wake up every day and make a difference for people in North Dakota you can do that. And the good news is, it doesn’t matter if I’m wearing jeans or not. I can go to work and make a difference and that’s what I’m focused on.

AV: I hope that answers the question for a few people that are wondering out there. I think that’s all we have for us today.  Thank you so much for being with us Governor Burgum.

GB:  Well great to be with you and thanks for all you guys do. Today, more than ever, having news media that people can trust is important for people to move the state ahead and I just want to say I appreciate the opportunity to be on and thanks for all you guys do to keep North Dakota pointed in the right direction.

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