*info pulled from Wikipedia
**There is a point to this beyond just a long history lesson.
John Miller served as the first Governor of North Dakota. He had no previous political aspirations, but ran for governor after being persuaded to do so. After serving his term Miller declined to run for re-election or any other office.
Asle Jorgenson Gronna was one of the six to vote against the First World War.
Elmore Y. Sarles was an American politician who was the Republican Governor of North Dakota from 1905 to 1907. “More business in government,” was Sarles motto.
Ragnvald Anderson Nestos was the governor of the U.S. state of North Dakota from 1921 through 1925. He was a member of the Independent Voters Association, running on the Republican ticket. Nestos worked hard to make the new state-owned businesses (State Mill and Elevator and the Bank of North Dakota) a success.
Arthur G. Sorlie served as the Fourteenth Governor of North Dakota. When NPL-backed Sorlie replaced IVA candidate Nestos, the Nonpartisan League returned to power in the state. However, Sorlie did not have complete support from the League. Some (such as his own lieutenant governor, Walter Maddock) disliked Sorlie because he was a conservative businessman. During the 1927 legislative session, Sorlie’s political enemies conspired to embarrass him by publicly investigating the State Mill and Elevator and calling for its removal from the governor’s influence because of inefficient management.
William Frederick Lemke was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1932 on the Republican Party ticket. He served four two-year terms in Congress. While in Congress, Lemke earned a reputation as a progressive populist and supporter of the New Deal, championing the causes of family farmers and co-sponsoring legislation to protect farmers against foreclosures during the Great Depression.
In 1936, Lemke co-sponsored the Fraizer-Lemke Bill, which would have provided for government refinancing of farm mortgages. President Franklin D. Roosevelt refused to support Lemke on that issue and ultimately sank the bill.
Later in 1936, Lemke accepted the nomination of the Union Party, a short-lived third party, as their candidate for President of the United States. He received 892,267 votes, or just under 2% nationwide, and no electoral votes (see also: U.S. presidential election, 1936). Simultaneously, he was reelected to the House of Representatives as a Republican. Many believe Lemke’s acceptance of the Union Party nomination in 1936 was out of bitterness toward Roosevelt over the farm mortgage issue.
In 1940, after having already received the Republican nomination for a fifth House term, he withdrew from that race to launch an unsuccessful run as an independent for the U.S. Senate. He ran again for Congress in 1942 as a Republican and served four more terms, until his death in 1950.
Gerald Prentice Nye entered politics as a progressive Republican in 1924, when unsuccessfully sought election to the U.S. House. Having been an editorial supporter of the agrarian reform movement, Nye supported legislation for agricultural price supports.
He established a reputation as “Gerald the Giant-Killer” in the Teapot Dome scandal, when he uncovered the fact that Albert B. Fall, Warren G. Harding’s interior secretary had uncompetitively leased a government oil field to Mammoth Oil Company in return for contributions to the Republican National Committee. He went on to investigate other instances where the corrupting influence of money on politics had gone unnoticed.
In 1934 Senator Nye headed an investigation of the munitions industry. Once again, he sniffed out corruption and created headlines by making connections between the wartime profits of the banking and munitions industries and America’s involvement in World War I. Many Americans felt betrayed: perhaps the war hadn’t been an epic battle between the forces of good (democracy) and evil (autocracy). This investigation of these “merchants of death” helped to bolster sentiments for isolationism.1 A leading member of the Nye Committee staff was Alger Hiss.
Nye was instrumental in the development and adoption of the Neutrality Acts passed between 1935 and 1937. When it became apparent that these laws would not prevent American involvement in the escalating European conflicts, he helped to establish the America First Committee to mobilize antiwar sentiments.
Nye again gained prominence in 1941 for his severe criticism of Hollywood film producers, who he accused them of peddling pro-war propaganda to the masses. The bombing of Pearl Harbor put an end to both the AFC and Nye’s resistance to American participation in World War II.
His earlier antiwar stands now undercut his reputation, and he was defeated for re-election by a Democrat, John Moses, in 1944. He later worked for the Federal Housing Administration from 1960 to 1964, and on the staff of the Senate Committee on Aging from 1964 to 1968. He then practiced law in Washington, D.C. until his death.
Walter J. Maddock became the fifteenth Governor of North Dakota in 1928 when the Arthur G. Sorlie died in office, and became the first North Dakota born governor. He served the remainder of Sorlie’s term and sought re-election, but he failed to win the race against George F. Shafer. In the 1928 election, he did something rare when he switched parties from republican to democratic. After being defeated in the election, Maddock returned to farming and was active in organizing farmers’ cooperatives. Maddock was a very strong supporter of the Nonpartisan League, and he supported state-owned industries (Bank of North Dakota and the State Mill and Elevator).
Walter Welford was inaugurated as the twentieth Governor of North Dakota on February 2, 1935 after Thomas H. Moodie was removed from office following a scandal. He served until 1937 when he lost the race to former governor William Langer.
Walter Welford served as township clerk at Pembina for twenty years. He also served in the State House and Senate. As lieutenant governor, Welford became governor after Thomas H. Moodie was disqualified. Welford was a staunch supporter of the Nonpartisan League (NPL), a farmers’ political group. During Welford’s administration the state was caught in the grip of the Great Depression. The 1936 crop yield was disastrously low because of drought. Welford met with President Franklin Roosevelt and obtained federal aid for drought-stricken farmers. In 1936, Welford decided to run for office again. He beat former Governor William Langer for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, but Langer refused to drop out, and entered the general election as an independent. Welford lost the three-way governor’s election to Langer. (The third-place candidate was Democrat John Moses, who became North Dakota’s twenty-second governor, following Langer’s second term.)
Fred George Aandahl was governor of North Dakota from 1945 to 1951 and a U.S. Representative from 1951 to 1953. He was elected as a Republican to the Eighty-second United States Congress (January 3, 1951-January 3, 1953). He was not a candidate for the Eighty-third Congress in 1952, but was an unsuccessful candidate for the United States Senate, running as an independent against incumbent William Langer, a fellow Republican, and Democrat Harold A. Morrison with Langer winning in a landslide and Aandahl receiving third place and 10% of the vote.
Lynn Joseph Frazier was a U.S. Senator from North Dakota (1923-1941) and the Governor of that state from 1917 until being recalled in 1921. He was the first American governor ever successfully recalled from office.
After running in the Republican primary as the Non-Partisan League candidate, Frazier was elected Governor in 1916 with 79% of the vote. Frazier was extremely popular and implemented several reforms such as the establishment of the Bank of North Dakota and a state-run agricultural mill. He was re-elected twice, in 1918 and 1920, but an economic depression hit the agricultural sector during his third term and resulted in a grassroots movement to press for his recall. The movement succeeded, and in 1921 the governor was successfully removed from office. Independent Voters Association member Ragnvald A. Nestos was elected in his place. After the recall, Frazier was elected in 1922 to the United States Senate, again as the NPL candidate on the Republican ticket.
William “Wild Bill” Langer is one of the most colorful characters in North Dakota history, most famously bouncing back from a scandal that forced him out of office and into prison. He served as the Governor of North Dakota from 1933 to 1934 and from 1937 to 1939. Langer also served in the United States Senate from 1940 to 1959 when he died.
A Non-Partisan League Republican, he lost the first time he ran for governor, as well as his first senatorial race. However, he was governor for two years and a senator for nearly twenty years.
During the Great Depression, he was removed from office by the State Supreme Court for allegedly pressuring recipients of governmental aid to donate money to his private newspaper and for allegedly forcing state employees to give funds to the state Republican party. He was found guilty of fraud in 1934. The North Dakota Supreme Court ordered him removed from office due to his conviction on a felony charge, and on July 17, 1934, the Court declared Lieutenant Governor Ole Olsen the legitimate governor. Langer gathered with about ten friends, declared North Dakota independent, declared martial law, and barricaded himself in the governor’s mansion until the Supreme Court would meet with him. Langer eventually relented, and Olson served the remainder of Langer’s term as Governor.
Langer was an isolationist, wanting to minimize America’s involvement in World War II. At home, he concentrated on making life easier for the farmers of North Dakota by raising wheat prices and doling out government relief, although amidst rumors of great scandal. He was also very adamant about implementing affordable healthcare for everyone. As a senator, he served on the Post Office, Civil Service and Indian Affairs committees. He and Henrik Shipstead of Minnesota were the only Senators to vote against the United Nations Charter in 1945.
Milton Ruben Young served as President pro tempore of the Senate during the Ninety-sixth Congress. There he represented the people of North Dakota the remainder of his career, becoming one of the longest serving members of the Senate in its history.
In his last election for the U.S. Senate in which his age was being used against him, Young had himself filmed breaking a piece of board with his bare hands and easily won renomination.
Edward Thomas “Ed” Schafer declined to run for United States Senate against Democrat Byron Dorgan despite calls from national Republican leaders including President George W. Bush. He was considered a very good candidate because of his extremely high approval rating in the state. In 1990, Schafer unsuccessfully challenged then-U.S. Congressman Dorgan’s reelection bid capturing only 35% of the vote to Dorgan’s 65%.
Now that you’ve read a brief history of the figures in the history of the North Dakota Republican Party, what are some things that we can take away from this?
1. They didn’t like being associated with the Republican Party. This is based on the clinging to the NPL label, as well as the common departure from the party for runs at Independent politics.
2. They probably would never be called Republicans if they lived to day. Outside of the latter individuals such as Ed Schafer, they had very little resemblence to modern Republicans.
3. They were Isolationist and Anti-War. (see #2)
4. The supported big government. Ok, so this makes them fit with modern Republicans, in D.C. at least.
5. Mental Instability ran deep. Some of them were clearly crazy by the things they did.
6. The ones that weren’t corrupt fought corruption.
7. And finally, they clung onto power far longer than anyone should be able to be re-elected.
Stay tuned for Part 2 – “North Dakotans and their Democrats”