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Teddy Roosevelt library money won’t be challenged at polls

July 24, 2019

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum’s signature project that commits public money for a Theodore Roosevelt presidential library in the western part of the state won’t be challenged at the polls.

Dickinson electrician Riley Kuntz headed an effort seeking to overturn the Legislature’s approval of $50 million to operate and maintain the library in Medora. But the nearly 13,500 signatures needed to place a referendum on the June 2020 primary ballot to repeal the state funding won’t be gathered by the Thursday midnight deadline, he said.

“It is not going to happen,” Kuntz told The Associated Press Wednesday.

Kuntz also submitted a referral petition last month to overturn a new law exempting lawmakers’ communications with public employees, which he and media representatives have widely criticized as an erosion of transparency and contrary to the state’s open records laws. Kuntz missed the deadline Tuesday to get that proposal on the ballot.

The Legislature in March had passed the bill with strong bipartisan support that keeps secret private correspondence between the Legislature and public employees, even from state-owned computers.

Signatures to get a third referral on the ballot to stop new restrictions on the state auditor are due on July 31. Kuntz said “it’s unlikely” enough signatures will be gathered by the deadline.

The new law requires that state auditor to get approval from a legislative committee to conduct performance audits. Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem said the new law is likely unconstitutional and state Auditor Josh Gallion has pledged to ignore it, based on the Stenehjem’s legal opinion.

Kuntz said about 150 volunteers were working on gathering signatures on the three referrals but they were hampered by the lack of time and money.

“This has been a full-time job and I already have a full-time job,” Kuntz said. “And we had zero dollars. Maybe I bit off more than I can chew. Live and learn.”

Kuntz said a $50 million endowment to operate the Roosevelt library is a waste of taxpayer money, which must be matched by $100 million in private money.

“We have potholes that need to be filled, schools that need to be built and property taxes are through the roof — we have other priorities,” he said.

And, Kuntz said, it’s inappropriate to build the project honoring a president who wasn’t even from North Dakota. Roosevelt spent four years on a ranch in the North Dakota Badlands while in his 20s.

Burgum, a first-term Republican governor, has made the library a top priority of his administration, saying it will be “an economic and tourism boon” for the state.

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