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Two Game and Fish Commissioners

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Turbulent politics gripped North Dakota in the 1930s, when four men served as governor in a seven-month period. Gov. Bill Langer was removed from office by the state Supreme Court due to his federal felony conviction on corruption charges. Lt. Gov. Ole Olson succeeded him, but served only a few months and didn’t run for election.

Williston Herald Editor Thomas Moodie won the 1934 gubernatorial election, but Wild Bill Langer’s allies in the Legislature and the attorney general’s office targeted Moodie over his North Dakota residency and even his U.S. citizenship. The House impeached Moodie for alleged crimes and corruption, on his eleventh day in office. But House leaders set the impeachment proceedings aside as the Supreme Court took up the issue of Moodie’s residency. The court disqualified the new governor from office for not meeting the five-year residency requirement because he had recently voted in Minnesota. Lt. Gov. Walter Welford finished Moodie’s two-year term. Moodie had served as governor for just a few weeks.

All this disorder at the top had a ripple effect as the outgoing state game and fish commissioner refused to relinquish his office to Moodie’s appointee. On this date in 1935, Commissioner Thoralf Swenson’s term expired, but he wouldn’t go. Moodie had appointed Arthur Peterson as the new game and fish commissioner, but after the governor’s disqualification, Swenson said Peterson’s appointment was invalid. Peterson countered by citing an attorney general opinion that said Moodie’s acts while governor were indeed legal.

For four days, North Dakota had two game and fish commissioners. Swenson acted as the head of the department, but Peterson said he was the “real” commissioner. He even appointed an assistant commissioner during this time. The Bismarck Tribune reported both men “appeared on amicable terms.” Peterson said there was no animosity, but he intended to carry out the commissioner’s duties.

Swenson changed his mind and stepped down after four days. He turned over the office keys to Peterson, who began his tenure. During this scrap, the 1935 Legislature considered a bill for a five-member game and fish board to replace the commissioner, but the bill didn’t pass.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

Sources:

The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, November 7. Pages 1, 2

The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, December 3. Pages 1, 2

The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, December 29. Page 1

The Bismarck Tribune. 1935, January 18. Pages 1, 2

The Bismarck Tribune. 1935, January 19. Page 1

The Bismarck Tribune. 1935, January 21. Pages 1, 2

The Bismarck Tribune. 1935, February 1. Page 1

The Bismarck Tribune. 1935, February 4. Pages 1, 9

The Bismarck Tribune. 1935, February 5. Page 1

The Bismarck Tribune. 1935, February 12. Page 2

history.nd.gov/archives/stateagencies/gameandfish.html

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