Let’s Talk About “The North Dakota Way”

I am at my limit in regard to the ad campaign that keeps telling me that Measure 4 is not the “North Dakota Way.”  The campaign seeks to shoot down Measure 4 by blanketing the airwaves with ads, peppering every tobacco retailer with signs, and filling voters’ mailboxes with a seemingly endless onslaught of red, white, and blue sound-bite-ridden claims that they hope the uninformed voter will swallow hook, line, and sinker. And I note that I am particularly well-versed in speaking to the mailings as I receive four copies of each anti-Measure 4 card in my mailbox with each mailing the group dispatches.

Now, I have no problem with civil discourse about politics and I recognize that outside interests often push the political agenda at the state level. I am not naive about, nor am I begrudging, the right of big corporate interests to funnel their money to organizations and campaigns that further their business agenda.  I also recognize that as a person who supports Measure 4 that I naturally view these efforts with some level of disdain.  I’ve got all that.

Having said that, I am more than a little miffed about the messaging used by those against Measure 4. In particular, I am very tired of being told that Measure 4 is not the “North Dakota Way.” I have been in North Dakota 19 years now (soon, folks will stop saying I am a newcomer); and, let me tell you folks, I have learned all about the “North Dakota Way.” Please allow me to break it down.

The “North Dakota Way” is to help each other in times of need. To rise up as neighborhoods, communities, and as a state, to serve the greater good of the collective. We know what community is, indeed we embody it on a daily basis here.

The “North Dakota Way” is to serve our country and others as a matter of character, as opposed to a mechanism for self-recognition or gain.

The “North Dakota Way” is to be sensible, hardworking, humble, no-nonsense folks who look past hyperbole and propaganda to get to the facts. North Dakotans are grounded in what really matters in life and thoughtful about the choices they make.

In contrast, it is NOT the “North Dakota Way” to stand idle while others seek to buy or harm our interests, communities, way of life, or beliefs.

It is NOT the “North Dakota Way” to ignore the needs of North Dakotans to line the pockets of the tobacco industry.

It is NOT the “North Dakota Way” to be ill-informed about the issues or to allow campaign rhetoric to guide one’s position.

North Dakotans are intelligent, caring folks, who understand what the “North Dakota Way” really means. Anti-Measure 4 folks simply must stop using that phrase to try and convince North Dakota voters that they know North Dakotans and the way they feel about Measure 4. Any person who truly knows North Dakotans, knows that bamboozling will get you nowhere. Indeed, such bamboozling will profoundly irritate some North Dakotans (can you tell I am in the profoundly irritated camp?).

Here are the facts about Measure 4 from Raise It For Health North Dakota :

“In March 2016, thirty North Dakotans – including physicians, veterans, mental and public health professionals, concerned parents, and a bi-partisan group of legislators (3 Republicans, 2 Democratic-NPL) – initiated a petition to to raise North Dakota’s shamefully low tobacco taxes to reduce tobacco use, prevent youth initiation, and support services important to the health of veterans and all North Dakota’s veterans and individuals suffering from chronic disease, mental illness, and addiction disorders.

After over 150 volunteers across the state collected nearly 23,000 North Dakota signatures to support this initiative, this effort was made official as Measure 4 on the November 2016 General Election ballot.

Unlike our opposition, funded and led by out-of-state tobacco companies, the Raise it for Health ND coalition is a broad-based, growing coalition of North Dakota healthcare providers, veterans’ service organizations, non-profit organizations, educators, mental health advocates, and addiction service providers that strongly encourages North Dakota voters to vote Yes 4 Kids, Yes 4 Veterans, Yes 4 Health, and YES ON MEASURE 4 in November.”

You can read exactly what additions were proposed to the Century Code here. Below is a summary of what the proposed new section in chapter 37-14 of the North Dakota Century Code will do:

  • Create a veterans’ tobacco tax trust fund to support a strategic plan for veterans’ services and programs as approved and administered by Governor-appointed Administrative Committee on Veterans Affairs (ACOVA) and the Commissioner of Veterans Affairs.
  • Amend definitions of tobacco products to include all tobacco products and liquid nicotine. Adds definition of “inhalation device”.
  • Treat liquid nicotine dealers/distributors, including taxing, licensing, and registration, the same as all other tobacco dealers/distributors in the state.
  • Increase the current tobacco excise taxes as follows:
    • Cigarettes:  from $0.44/pack (22 mills/cigarette) to $2.20/pack (110 mills/cigarette).
    • All other tobacco products:  from 28% to 56% of wholesale purchase price, and eliminates special tax treatments (weight-based taxing) of some tobacco products.
  • Allocate NEW tobacco product and cigarette excise taxes as follows:
    • Veterans Tobacco Tax Trust Fund:  44 mills/cigarette + 25% tobacco product collections (50% of new revenues from increase).
    • Community Health Trust Fund:  44 mills/cigarette + 25% tobacco product collections (50% of new revenues from increase).
      • 70% of these funds dedicated to a  Behavioral Health Comprehensive Plan as determined by the Governor-appointed Behavioral Health Planning Council.
      • 20% of these funds dedicated to counties (based on population) for essential local health unit services as established by the state health council.
      • 10% of these funds dedicated to the Department of Health for support of chronic disease detection, prevention, treatment and control.
  • Does not allocate any tobacco tax revenues to tobacco prevention and cessation, as North Dakota already has a fully-funded comprehensive tobacco prevention and cessation program funded by a small percentage of the Master Tobacco Settlement Agreement.
  • Repeal tax exemptions on tobacco and cigarette for the ND State Hospital and ND Veterans Home (neither of which sell tobacco anymore).

But do not simply trust what I have written here my fellow North Dakotans, read about this measure and what it seeks to do and decide for yourself if creating a Veterans Tobacco Tax Trust Fund and a Community Health Trust Fund with tobacco taxes is in alignment with the “North Dakota Way.” I personally think Measure 4 is an excellent opportunity for North Dakotans to direct tobacco taxes where they can do some real good for our citizens.  The onslaught of propaganda the Koch brothers and tobacco industry have visited upon the state strike me as nothing more than a smoke screen designed to distract voters from the positive impact this addition to the Century Code will have.

Sure, I may still be a newcomer, but there is a reason I have stayed all these years in North Dakota – it is the sense of care and community that reside here. Measure 4 is about taking care of our own; and, in my estimation, that is the “North Dakota Way.”

Another day in the new forty – obla di obla da

Ms. C

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