Gov. Burgum’s former foe to defend him in state’s high court
BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem says he will personally defend his former political foe, Gov. Doug Burgum, against a lawsuit filed by the Republican-led Legislature challenging the first-term Republican governor’s veto powers.
Stenehjem told The Associated Press that he will base his state Supreme Court argument on a previous opinion he authored in June that actually favors the Legislature on much of the vetoes.
“I’ve visited with (Burgum) and we are in agreement on our legal position,” Stenehjem, also a Republican, said in an email to The Associated Press. Stenehjem is currently traveling in New Zealand.
Burgum told the AP last week that he agrees with Stenehjem’s opinion, though he previously issued statements describing the threat of a lawsuit as a legislative intrusion on the powers of his office and a waste of taxpayer money.
The Legislature sued Burgum earlier this month. Lawmakers allege he violated his line-item veto power last spring by deleting words or phrases on several spending bills in a way that changed intent.
Stenehjem lost to Burgum in the Republican primary for governor last year. He also is a former state senator, and during the 1995 legislative session, he sponsored a rewrite of the state Constitution that included a new section on the line-item veto.
Stenehjem, in his earlier written opinion, said the governor can’t veto conditions or restrictions on appropriations without vetoing the appropriation itself.
He also said that while Burgum was not authorized to veto some language in the State Water Commission and Department of University and School Lands appropriations, the Legislature ceded too much of its power by giving its Budget Section — a subset of the Legislature — “significant budgetary decisions” not authorized under the state constitution.
Stenehjem said the full Legislature should have made the spending decisions. Many of the Legislature’s 47 districts have no representation on the Budget Section.
“I will argue that the appropriations have been made, but are not subject to an unconstitutional veto by a subset of the Legislature,” Stenehjem said. “That really is the only issue of significance.”
Legislative leaders had asked Stenehjem for the legal opinion on the vetoes earlier this year, but they didn’t ask for a ruling on the Budget Section’s authority to spend money.
“That’s not something the Legislature asked for,” said John Bjornson, the lead attorney for the Legislative Council, the Legislature’s research arm. “We didn’t think that was relevant to the inquiry. We were questioning if the vetoes were legitimate.”
The state’s high court has given Burgum until Jan. 16 to file arguments.