I feel sorry for everyone who doesn’t subscribe to the Fargo Forum these days. I’ll bet your newspapers are full of doom and gloom: state budget shortfalls, laid off workers, death-spiraling housing markets, rising costs, tough times.
If you subscribed to the Fargo Forum, the headlines on Tuesday, December 9, would read: “Free North Dakota Tuition Plan Rekindled—New Version Broadens Eligibility.” We’re talking free college tuition here. Don’t get me wrong; I know the bill didn’t pass in the North Dakota House (killed on a 28-65 vote). However, just think about it. It’s December 2008, and the country is in a recession. Here in Minnesota, the state has a hiring freeze and a $5.2 billion budget shortfall.
But on the other side of the Red River, North Dakota is wondering what to do with a $1.2 billion surplus, mainly the result of oil and agriculture revenues. Unemployment is among the lowest in the country, and sales of new cars are up 27 percent over last year. And they’re thinking maybe they should take some of that extra state money and help their kids pay for college.
That’s why I can’t help but looking longingly in a westerly direction and think, “Ah, North Dakota. Wouldn’t you like to be more than just friends?” After all, it takes me two hours to drive to the Twin Cities, but only an hour to drive straight west to North Dakota.
Jim Lileks, a columnist for the Minneapolis Star Tribune (a Minnesota newspaper on the verge of bankruptcy) wonders whether it might not be in Minnesota’s best interest to just take over North Dakota. In a recent column, he says:
“We need bold, new solutions, like annexing North Dakota. They have natural resources aplenty, and the population density of Antarctica, even if you figure in penguins. Pushover. We have National Guard soldiers who've been to Iraq; I think Fargo would be an easier tour of duty. We would not only be bigger and richer, we would be the weirdest shaped state in the nation, and cement our stature as the state with the greatest number of old guys named Elmer.”
Somebody named westernmn had this comment in response to Lileks’ column: “Living in western Minnesota feels almost like being in a different state. . . I've often thought we have more in common with the Dakotas than southeastern Minnesota, where the metro is (people from the Twin-Cities think they are located in the center of Minnesota). There's a North and South Dakota, maybe we should succeed from Minnesota and become ‘East Dakota.’”
So here’s my home-made map of what I think the new state of Dakota would look like:
The new Minnesota looks quite a bit like the old one—just thinner. And the state is currently into belt-tightening, so this just might be the answer. Of course, those of us in East Dakota would be happy to help North Dakota figure out what to do with its budget surplus.