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Apology or Expulsion

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Heated moments and hostile politics have often gripped North Dakota’s Legislature. In 1890, the state’s first legislative session included the censure of two senators for insults. One of them was replaced as president pro tempore.

A censure formally condemns someone’s behavior. In 1907, the North Dakota Senate censured the Grand Forks Herald and its correspondent for articles considered to be “manifestly unfair, grossly inaccurate and untruthful.”

Other lawmakers have found themselves in hot water for their sharp tongues. On this date in 1913, Rep. Edward Coltom of Hatton insulted Representative Staale Hendrickson of Burke County during a House discussion over a liquor inspection bill. Coltom thought the majority of them members on a committee handling the bill were “whiskey people,” and said: “It is a black spot on the state to have such a chairman as we have on the prohibition committee.” The Bismarck Tribune called his comments “uncomfortably personal,” and reported that Coltom “touched off the fireworks.” A front-page Grand Forks Evening Times headline stated: “Bitterness in House takes serious form.” The Tribune declared: “Another scrap is started.”

Hendrickson said: “I resent the views expressed by the gentleman from Traill (County). He has no license to brand me as one of the rankest liquor men in the state.” He demanded that Coltom explain what he meant by his insult. Coltom doubled down. He said, “I would like to take back what I said if I was not sincere,” and he called it “an insult to the House to have such a chairman on the committee.”

Other representatives joined the fray. Rep. Frank Ployhar of Valley City said, “It is not right to permit him to heap abuse upon a member in that manner, and I resent it.” Rep. Charles Buck of Jamestown said, “we are not here to consider personal measures but the welfare of the state.”

A resolution was written to “demand” Coltom apologize to Hendrickson, the House speaker, and the full House. The Tribune reported that “if the apology demanded in the resolution is not forthcoming, proceedings will be started looking towards the expulsion of the member accused.” Expulsion of a state lawmaker requires a two-thirds vote of their chamber.

Coltom quickly apologized in the House before the resolution was introduced. Hendrickson accepted his apology, and both men were applauded.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


Bismarck Weekly Tribune. 1890, March 7. Pages 2, 9

The Bismarck Tribune. 1907, January 31. Page 6

The Bismarck Tribune. 1913, February 19. Pages 1, 6, 7

The Evening Times. 1913, February 19. Pages 1, 8

The Bismarck Tribune. 1913, February 20. Page 1

Dakota Datebook is made in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, and funded by Humanities North Dakota, a nonprofit, independent state partner of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Any views, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in the program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities North Dakota or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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