Lawmakers debate adding agriculture commissioner to Land Board

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Interests of rural and urban legislators clashed during discussion over whether the agriculture commissioner should have a seat on the North Dakota Department of Trust Lands.

“The cornerstone of our state is agriculture. When you have all these land assets and all the moneys that are being taken care of by the land board, I think it’s important to have that representation on there,” Edinburg Senator and farmer Janne Myrdal said.

Myrdal says adding the commissioner would give rural constituents greater representation in government.

Currently, the governor, secretary of state, superintendent of public instruction, state treasurer and attorney general sit on the board.

But newly passed legislation requires a study of whether to add the agriculture commissioner as a sixth member.

Some lawmakers say it creates a conflict of interest.

“Putting the agriculture commissioner on the Land Board would mean that all three members of the Industrial Commission are now on the Land Board, so you’re basically embedding one commission onto another. That could create some conflicts of interest because the two groups have different objectives, sometimes,” Hanson said.

Hanson says having the entire Industrial Commission on the board could be a conflict of interest considering the Industrial Commission oversees the Bank of North Dakota.

Hazelton Representative and rancher Jeff Magrum says he supports the addition.

“We’d have a direct connection to the Land Board where we’d have a advocate for our people because it does affect us in a huge way. Our family does rent some of the state land, so it would be beneficial for people like us to have an advocate on the state land board,” Magrum said.

The proposal to add the agriculture commissioner came after ranchers became frustrated with leasing auctions that moved online due to the pandemic.

That switch was made without any agricultural input on the board — input that Myrdal says she’s trying to add.

“We are less and less represented, obviously. Bismarck, Grand Forks, Minot, Williston, Fargo have more lawmakers than us so we have to be a little louder than the lawmakers in the urban areas, but once again, North Dakota is an agricultural state and it’s my mission to keep pounding on that issue,” Myrdal said.

The state’s constitution sets the membership of the land board, so any changes have to be approved by ballot measure. If lawmakers next session do decide to amend the land board’s membership, it’ll be in the hands of voters to have the final say.

The Land Board was established in North Dakota in 1889 and has changed membership only one time to switch out the state auditor for the state treasurer. It’s been at its current makeup since 1987.

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