Gov. Burgum bringing in VIPs to lobby for Roosevelt library

January 22, 2019 GMT

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum is bringing out-of-state VIPs to lobby lawmakers on his proposal to commit public money to a presidential library for Theodore Roosevelt in the western badlands.

The first-term Republican governor Tuesday night will host Theodore Roosevelt V, the 26th president’s great-great-grandson, and former Walmart chairman Rob Walton and his wife, Melani, a graduate of Dickinson State University. Burgum also invited lawmakers to a reception at the governor’s residence on the state Capitol grounds.

Burgum has proposed dedicating $50 million of interest money from North Dakota’s voter-approved savings account for oil and gas taxes for the library. The state money would be matched by $100 million in private fundraising, under the proposal.

The governor said the library in Medora would elevate North Dakota’s reputation around the globe. But lawmakers are generally lukewarm on the proposal, saying the state has more pressing needs.

“It’s a great idea and opportunity for the state but we’re coming off of five years of budget cuts,” Democratic House Minority Leader Josh Boschee of Fargo said. “My constituents have made it very clear to me that there are other priorities.”

Republican House Majority Leader Chet Pollert of Carrington, and his Senate counterpart, Rich Wardner of Dickinson, said they’ve heard much the same.

“It’s not completely off the table but there are other needs that must be considered in this budget,” Pollert said.

Burgum spokesman Mike Nowatzki said Tuesday’s reception was not open to the public “but no one would be turned away” if they show up.

Nowatzki said the governor, a wealthy former software executive, was paying for food and other items out of his own pocket for the event. The state was not paying for the visitors’ travel or other costs, he added.

Rob Walton is the eldest son of Walmart founder Sam Walton. Melani Walton serves on the proposed library’s board.

Nowatzki said neither the Waltons nor Roosevelt’s family has pledged money toward the project.

Before he was president, Roosevelt, who was from New York, spent more than three years in western North Dakota in the 1880s. He owned a cabin there and grazed cattle on nearby land.