TOM DAVIES: The Verdict — Inspired By A Young Man Who Loves It Here

This past weekend, while I was shopping at one of the big-box stores in Fargo, I noticed a young black man who appeared to be in his early 20s. This lad was helping everyone within “hello” distance and had a smile that lit up the room.

I watched him for about 10 minutes. His mood improved my own so much I walked over and struck up a conversation. He told me he was from North Carolina. I asked him how he liked our area, since he was so far from home. He replied without flinching, with that incredible smile going all the time, “I love it here.” I pressed him for his reasoning. He told me the people are warm and friendly; jobs are plentiful; and — most importantly — he loved local law enforcement because when he waves and says “hi,” they wave back.

Perhaps he exaggerated (or maybe not, since I’ve not been to North Carolina), but he implied there wasn’t much communication between the law and people of color in that state — and certainly no small talk. After listening to him, I gained a much better understanding of life in the Deep South from the viewpoint of one individual.

There are those in this community who would not have spoken to this young man under similar circumstances. The sadness of that is it’s hard to understand the lives some have to live if you don’t speak to them.

The young man did not know me from the man in the moon, yet his response was as open and friendly as those from other people of color I’ve met since retiring from the bench. But I’ve also met many young men who have felt the same type of prejudice right here in River City. That’s sad. I’m referring to Native Americans, African-Americans, Asian-Americans and immigrants whose only apparent problem is that they aren’t the same color as we are.

The only color that matters is “red.” We all bleed that color. For my purpose here, that designates what it takes to be an American. What clothing we wear and how we wear our hair (or shave our heads) does not show who we are as a people — just what our individual tastes may be.

I personally don’t care if you believe in God, in Allah, in any other Creator … or don’t believe in the afterlife at all. If you are a good person, live an honest life and treat others as you wish to be treated, you are making this world a better place to live. If ever we’ve needed these types of people, it’s now more than ever.

My conversation with that young man from North Carolina piqued my interest in the state he came from. The North Carolina Legislature has been trying to set the clock back on civil rights. It is particularly active now in the time of President 45, who doesn’t recognize there are three co-equal branches of government. As he systematically tries to destroy the criminal justice system and remake it in his own image and likeness — the courts are once again reminding him and his supporters that this country is governed by the rule of law. God help us if that ever changes.

As in many states, North Carolina’s voter suppression attempts are being stomped on. That state accepted a variety of government-issued photo ID cards — drivers licenses, passports and military ID cards. However, in a not-so-subtle attempt to keep minorities from voting, this state would not accept public assistance card used disproportionately as identification by minorities in North Carolina. Legislators also tried to cut early voting days and end same-day voter registration. There was nothing subtle about their attempts to discourage and limit certain voters. Were it not for the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled against them, they would have succeeded.

It’s one thing to be prosecuted because you have done something wrong. It is quite another to be persecuted because you exist.

Some might say that I take bigotry and prejudice personally because of the legacy of my father, Judge Ronald N. Davies. They’d be partially right. My father turned the spotlight on the problems of bigotry and prejudice for me, and it has never dimmed. I am so proud of that.

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When my wife went to the lake this weekend with one of my daughters, each brought a dog. I stayed home because I was going to (and did) cut and apply weed killer to the lawn. Our dog chews crabgrass like a doper smokes pot, and I didn’t want to take any chances with him getting into the treated lawn. So Maureen will be hearing about my adventures at North Fargo Hornbacher’s for the first time as she reads this column.

Apparently Saturday must have been Tattoo Day for grocery shoppers there. One young lady was showing off some writing and some kind of picture emblazoned just above her (slightly exposed) boob line. At my age, the body parts were of no interest. But as I tried to glimpse what the writing said, this lady— not a teenager, but in her 40s or 50s — looked me right in the eye and said, “Do you like what you see?”

With the speed of light. I replied, “Don’t flatter yourself, I wouldn’t have to squint if the print was as large as you-know-what.”

That was not the end of my violating social taboos. In front of me in the checkout line was another woman, a younger one, with an exposed back. I looked away at something as she stood there talking to her friend. When I glanced back, her tattoo caught my eye — it looked just like a real spider. I let out a whoop and a holler and jumped back before I realized what I was looking at. I had to explain to the startled teen how I am deathly afraid of spiders. I don’t think she, the clerk or the others who witnessed the event stopped laughing until after I’d left the store.

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Here’s a special shout-out to Justin Benson, Erik Benson and my grandson, Rhys Luger, for becoming Eagle Scouts at the Boy Scouts of America Troop 214 ceremony on Mother’s Day. Until I saw the list of accomplishments required to earn this honor, I had no idea of the dedication each of these young men demonstrated to achieve his goal.

There is no doubt in my mind these young men will succeed in life. Their achievement is also a testament to their parents who supported them. Awesome job, young men! Amen.

JEFF OLSON: Photo Gallery — Bald Head Island

Alexandria, Va., photographer recently traveled south for a vacation retreat at Bald Head Island, a village located on the east side of the Cape Fear River in Brunswick County, N.C. Just two miles off North Carolina’s southern coast, Bald Head Island — located at the tip of Cape Fear — is home to Old Baldy, the state’s oldest lighthouse, and is a favorite nesting ground for loggerhead turtles. Historically, Bald Head Island played a part in two American wars —  the American Revolution and the Civil War. It is only accessible by ferry from the nearby town of Southport.

JIM FUGLIE: View From The Prairie — Doug Burgum: We Are Facing New Economic Reality In North Dakota: Fed Data Shows N.D. As One Of Worst-Performing States

Note: In Monday’s article, I discussed the North Dakota governor’s race, in light of the economic downturn the state is suffering. Today, one of the candidates for governor, Doug Burgum, discusses the state’s economic plight in an op-ed he e-mailed to the North Dakota media late Monday.  — Jim Fuglie

By Doug Burgum

The Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia for decades has tracked the economic performance of each state in the U.S. The measurements used are dispassionate economic statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Bureau of Economic Analysis and other sources.

Based on the Fed’s recent December 2015 report, 41 states have growing economies, two states have stable economies, and seven states have shrinking economies. It is not good news for North Dakota.

It should come as no surprise that among the seven states facing economic downturns, the majority have economies tied to the price of oil. The two states facing the largest economic downturns are North Dakota and Wyoming (see above graphic). North Dakota faces a double whammy due to the low prices of agriculture commodities.

In listening to and speaking with citizens across the state, it is clear that the leaders and participants in our energy and agriculture industries understand the tough times we are in.

Last week, for the first time, a North Dakota governor uttered the words, “we are facing a $1.1 billion shortfall” in tax revenue. We are truly moving into unchartered territory in terms of the size and scale of the state government’s financial challenges.

Gov. Dalrymple understands this and ordered 4.05 percent budget cuts, the largest by dollar size — $245 million — and percentage in recent history. And yet these cuts covered only 20 percent of the state government’s revenue shortfall.

To cover the remaining $800 million, two additional sources were tapped. First, our $300 million general fund ending balance was taken to zero. The second source of cash was the state’s Budget Stabilization Fund or “rainy day” fund. That fund had taken years to grow to a total of $575 million, and last week, the rainy day arrived. Or more accurately, a downpour of historic proportions arrived, and $500 million of the $575 million was depleted in a single afternoon.

In parallel to these events, the most-often heard phrase on the campaign trail from nomination-seeking politicians includes citing a prior survey that listed North Dakota as the “best-run state in the nation” for four years running. No. 2 on this “best-run” list? Wyoming. Much of the historic economic data that propelled oil-producing states to these top honors was tied to price of oil and the resulting boom.

North Dakota and Wyoming now face a new recognition: Being atop the Federal Reserve’s list of worst-performing state economies.

In response to this budgetary crisis, conventional campaign wisdom appears to be that “we have seen hard times before,” with the implications being to head to the root cellar and wait for the economic storm to pass. This typical political response reinforces a false belief that North Dakota’s economic outcomes need to forever remain out of our control.

For North Dakota to reach its full potential, we must, and we can, build a diversified economy and create a more streamlined state government. We need to unhinge our economy — and our state tax revenue and spending structure —from forces beyond our control.

Recently, North Dakota was listed 40th on the Bloomberg U.S. Innovation Index, with Bloomberg Business saying the 40th ranking “illustrates what happens when economic growth is concentrated in one industry.”

An entirely new interconnected global economy is emerging. This new economy is built around innovation, entrepreneurship and rapid advancements in technology. Improving our innovation stature is essential to successfully navigating the economy of the future.

I believe in North Dakota. I believe we can move from good to exceptional. I believe in our people, in our resources and in our potential as individuals and as a state. My commitment to this belief is reflected in my lifelong work to build companies in North Dakota that attract and retain the talent and capital needed to compete globally and live well locally.

I know what North Dakotans can accomplish when we work together. We can build world-class companies. We can create world-changing products. We can fix our state budget. It all starts with the belief that we truly can shape our own destiny.

Burgum is seeking the gubernatorial nomination at the Republican convention April 1-3 in Fargo. He will run in the statewide primary June 14. To learn more, visit Doug Burgum for North Dakota at www.dougburgum.com.

JEFF OLSON: Photo Gallery — Great Smoky Mountains National Park

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Travel to Great Smoky Mountains National Park with photographer Jeff Olson. The park straddles the ridgeline of the Great Smoky Mountains, part of the Blue Ridge Mountains, which are a division of the larger Appalachian Mountain chain. The border between North Carolina and Tennessee runs northeast to southwest through the centerline of the park. It is the most visited national park in the United States. The sprawling landscape encompases lush forests and an abundance of wildflowers that bloom year-round. Streams, rivers and waterfalls appear along hiking routes that include a segment of the Appalachian Trail. An observation tower tops Clingmans Dome, the highest peak, offering scenic views of the mist-covered mountains. The park was chartered by the U.S. Congress in 1934 and officially dedicated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in 1940. It encompasses 522,419 acres, making it one of the largest protected areas in the eastern United States.

JEFF OLSON: Photo Gallery — Chimney Rock State Park

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Alexandria, Va., photographer Jeff Olson captured these scenic shots at Chimney Rock State Park, which is located in Chimney Rock Village near Lake Lure in the North Carolina mountains. Privately owned by the Morse family for more than 100 years, Chimney Rock was acquired by the state of North Carolina in 2007 to become part of the greater Chimney Rock State Park. Currently, the 1,000-acre Chimney Rock is one of only two areas of the state park open to the public. Chimney Rock, the 535-million-year-old monolith for which the park is named, is considered one of the most iconic sites in North Carolina. From its top, you’ll soak in the 75-mile panoramic views of Hickory Nut Gorge and Lake Lure.