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Wednesday, June 13, 2012
All politics is local, some of it is microscopic

Primary voters in North Dakota yesterday voted in favor of legislation that will allow the state Board of Education to retire the controversial Fighting Sioux nickname of the University of North Dakota.
The NCAA has been pressing UND to get rid of its logo and nickname for several years because it deems it offensive to American Indians; schools that continue to use offensive nicknames are barred from hosting NCAA tournament events and cannot use the name and logo in NCAA tournament play.

The state was unable to get approval for continued use of the name from the two area nations, Standing Rock and Spirit Lake Sioux; the latter passed a resolution supporting the nickname but the latter never held a vote. In 2011, the North Dakota legislature passed a law requiring the school to continue using the nickname, but that law was repealed in a special session. A group supporting the nickname then gathered the signatures necessary to challenge the repeal law on the ballot. This now sends the matter back to the Board of Ed., which is expected to change the name.

That is, unless nickname supporters succeed in making the Fighting Sioux nickname a constitutional requirement. Yep, the next move, which supporters say they are going to pursue, is a popular constitutional amendment to amend the state's structural charter to require a university to use a particular nickname and logo. Needless to say, I don't expect to see this particular proposla in Slate's discussion of How to Fix the Constitution. I do not have skin in this nickname dispute; I do not believe that using Indian tribe names and titles (as opposed to, for example, "Redskins")  is inherently offensive and perhaps the NCAA is overreacting (shocking, I know). But this cannot be the sort of even symbolic issue that has any place in a state constitution.

One other touch to this report, also reflective of every political dispute: Sean Johnson, spokesman for the group supporting the ballot measure, pointed out that they were outspent by the other side. It is now virtually guaranteed that the loser in any election, particularly on issue refenda and initiatives, will point out how badly it was outspent. This has become the electoral equivalent of calling the judge in a case "activist": If I lose, it must be because someone (the judge, the other side) did something wrong or untoward.


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