Mandan News

Dan Ulmer: Today’s legislature a good mix of opposing winds

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It’s the opposing wind that makes the kite fly high.

I’ve had many mentors in my life, but Representative Brynhild Haugland sure left me with a lot more than I ever gave her. At the time I was 35 years old, serving in my first term as a legislator, and she was the chairwoman of the House Human Services Committee. By this time Miss Haugland had served in the legislature for well over 40 years. After serving 52 years, she finally retired in 1990, giving her the distinction of being the longest serving incumbent legislator in the country… like ever.

As you can imagine, by the time I met her she had probably forgotten more than I could ever learn about politics and public service. She was a petite but very classy lady and a real down to earth farmer. I remember her telling me about how her knees needed replacing because she had carried too much milk. It was hard to imagine this little lady totting two five-gallon pales of milk across the farmyard unless you got to know her. Her years of public service and farming made her so wise that it was always a delight, make that a privilege, to just sit and listen to her.

Representative Haugland rarely spoke on the floor of the House, but when she did a respect-filled silence would overcome the entire House chamber. Brynhild did her talking in committee, but not before hearing what her committee members to say. There were times out of the blue when she’d say, “Rep Ulmer, what are your thoughts on this matter?” Then I’d fumble around for an answer while she patiently listened.

She was a Republican and I was a freshman in the Democratic minority, so oft times our floor votes followed our political caucus, but when it came to committee votes we usually ended up on the same side or found a workable compromise.

Whenever I did find myself on disagreeing with Rep. Haugland she not only listened to my side; she encouraged the debate as she felt it made for better law. I remember one time when I got a bit more emotionally engaged than I should have and ended up apologizing to the committee for my zealous convictions.

It was here that Miss Haugland responded, “Rep. Ulmer there’s no need to apologize for your overreaction. Remember, ‘it’s the opposing wind that make the kite fly high.’” I then apologized in hopes that my hurricane hadn’t destroyed the kite… and after a good chuckle we moved onto the next issue in front of us.

That and a raft of other valuable metaphors that Brynhild shared have been with me ever since. So as I watch the mix in this legislative session I can’t help but conclude that the present day opposing wind is an interesting blend. Here’s the numbers – House, 23 Ds and 61 Rs, Senate, 13 Ds and 34 Rs.

On many occasions the Rs have to wrestle more amongst themselves than they do with the Ds. The Rs are split between moderate and ultra conservatives and the Ds are more moderate than their national reputation, and although they occasionally slip off the left edge when compared to the rest of the country, most of our Ds are more like moderate Rs… the blend gets rather interesting.

So the opposing wind in this legislative session is more like a series of mini cyclones that occasionally congeal into an emulsifying tempest… and it’s interesting to note that as the legislative session draws to a close it’s usually these opposing winds that eventually wind themselves into what’s called the “infinite wisdom” of the legislative process.

Thus, the legislative blender has hit emulsify, and it ain’t over for a while so don’t stop praying for ‘em.