N.D. voters head to primary polls on Tuesdayby Dan Gunderson, Minnesota Public Radio
The North Dakota primary election on Tuesday features Republican contests for U.S. Senate and House.
But two controversial issues are expected to drive up turnout. One gives voters a say on the University of North Dakota's nickname. The other would eliminate state property taxes.
Perhaps the most hotly debated measure on the ballot is one to preserve the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux nickname.
The NCAA says the name is offensive and must go. Last year, state lawmakers passed but later repealed a law to mandate use of the nickname.
Now voters have a chance to reinstate the law.
Tim O'Keefe, the executive vice president and chief executive officer of the UND Alumni Association, has angered some alumni by arguing it's time for the nickname to go.
O'Keefe says other schools refuse to play UND, and athletes turn down scholarship offers because of the controversy. O'Keefe says he'd like to continue using the Fighting Sioux name, but he says the university will be deeply damaged by NCAA sanctions.
"They have been crystal clear since 2006 in their position," O'Keefe says. "And if you look at other institutions that have dealt with them, there's no give. There's no negotiating in your dealings with the NCAA. You don't have to like it, but it is what it is."
On the other side of the issue is a coalition of American Indians and UND alumni who say they will never give up the nickname.
Eunice Davidson, a member of the Spirit Lake Tribe, is one of the leaders of the effort to save the nickname.
"There's so many people that say, 'Oh, it shouldn't matter that much, it's just a name and logo," she says. "Well, yeah, maybe it is just a name and logo. But it's the idea a whole group of people aren't being heard."
Davidson fears if the nickname goes away, so will the programs at UND that focus on educating American Indians. She pledges to continue fighting until the NCAA gives in.
A majority of North Dakotans surveyed last month for a Fargo Forum poll wanted to retire the Fighting Sioux name.
Supporters are already gathering signatures for an amendment to enshrine the nickname in the state Constitution.
The other contentious measure on the North Dakota primary ballot Tuesday would ban property taxes in the state.
A citizen group called Empower the Taxpayer led the effort to get the issue on the ballot. The group's leader, Charlene Nelson, says at its core, this issue is about property rights. Nelson says she opposes any tax on property she owns.
"Because it would still mean, symbolically at least, that my government owned my property. If they can still come and use your property as collateral, as a surety that you will pay that tax, then you don't own that property."
Nelson says the state could use funding from other revenue sources to make up for property taxes.
State officials say eliminating property taxes would have an $812 million annual impact on the state budget.
Property taxes primarily fund schools and local governments, with 45 percent going to schools, 30 percent to counties and 21 percent to cities.
North Dakota Tax Commissioner Cory Fong says taking property taxes out of the mix would create budgeting chaos.
"At a time when North Dakota is doing very well -- we are kind of a shining star in terms of our economy -- it's going to create such uncertainty that I worry about that for the future of our state."
Supporters of the property tax repeal say the specter of uncertainty is just a scare tactic. But Fong says the property tax, combined with sales and income taxes, helps smooth bumps in the economy.
North Dakota lawmakers have provided more than a billion dollars in income and property tax relief in the past five years.
The state has more than a billion-dollar budget surplus, in part because of a rapidly expanding oil boom.
DETAILS OF BALLOT MEASURES
Referendum Measure No. 4
This referendum measure concerns Senate Bill 2370 as passed by the Legislative Assembly in the November 2011 special session (Session Laws, Chapter 580). Senate Bill 2370 repealed section 15-10-46 of the North Dakota Century Code, which required the University of North Dakota to use the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.
YES - means you approve Senate Bill 2370, the effect of which would allow the University of North Dakota to discontinue the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.
NO - means you reject Senate Bill 2370, and would require the University of North Dakota to use the Fighting Sioux nickname and logo.
Initiated Constitutional Measure No. 2
This initiated constitutional measure would amend sections 1, 4, 14, 15, and 16 of Article X of the North Dakota Constitution and repeal sections 5, 6, 7, 9, and 10 of that same article, eliminating property taxes, poll taxes, and acreage taxes, effective January 1, 2012. The measure would require the Legislative Assembly to replace lost revenue to cities, counties, townships, school districts, and other political subdivisions with allocations of various state-level taxes and other revenues, without restrictions on how these revenues may be spent by the political subdivisions.
YES - means you approve the measure as summarized above.
NO - means you reject the measure as summarized above.
- Morning Edition, 06/11/2012, 6:50 a.m.