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Other views: N.D. legislators selective about imposing mandates

Recently, North Dakota legislators killed a bill that would establish a fund to support renewable energy projects and encourage state agencies to use renewable fuels, saying they feared it amounted to a "mandate."

In Colorado, some high profile elected officials opposed an initiative on the November 2004 ballot requiring utilities to get 10 percent of their electricity from renewable resources based partly on the fact that it was a mandate. Voters approved the initiative by a 53-47 margin. Members of Congress have also expressed their opposition to a federal renewable energy standard because it's a "mandate."

What's going on here? Do state and federal elected officials who oppose renewable energy "mandates" oppose all mandates in principle, or do they in fact support some mandates while opposing others? And if it's the latter, what could possibly be their rationale?

If you dig a little deeper, you will find that many of the same elected officials who oppose renewable energy "mandates" are not at all shy about supporting mandates on a wide range of other public policy issues. For example, they have:

E Adopted laws mandating that local governments can no longer enact and enforce ordinances to regulate waste disposal practices, land use activities, and factory farming operations, despite strong support from their constituents to do so.

E Mandated a barrage of standardized tests in the public schools, which have sacrificed meaningful opportunities to learn and squeezed the intellectual life out of classrooms.

E Supported the beef check-off program, a mandatory $1 fee on every head of cattle sold in the United States, even though several federal court decisions have found the check-off to be unconstitutional.

E Mandated tougher sentencing for people who commit crimes, including minor drug offenders, so that the United States now has the highest percentage of its citizens behind bars than any other country.

E Supported a mandate from the Food and Drug Administration that genetically engineered foods be treated as substantially equivalent to their conventionally produced counterparts, even in the face of disagreement among scientists and caution about the risks.

Do you see a pattern? It appears that state and federal elected officials are perfectly content to impose "mandates" on local governments, public school teachers and students, cattle producers, minor drug offenders, and consumers. But if a "mandate" is proposed that collides with what a corporation or industry wants, its bad for business, anti-competitive, a job killer, sure to raise consumer prices, etc. You get the idea.

Politics is all about winners and losers. The rule of thumb is this: if a "mandate" is attacked by corporations and their lackeys in government, it's probably a sure winner for the common people.

Rogne lives in Kindred, N.D. E-mail