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First Recall

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The populist Nonpartisan League ushered in a new era to North Dakota’s state government a century ago. The League’s legacy includes the state-owned Bank of North Dakota and the State Mill and Elevator. But the League also pushed a raft of changes for the state constitution, including a law for recalling elected officials.

The most high-profile recall in North Dakota’s history was in 1921, when voters ousted the governor, attorney general and commissioner of agriculture and labor. Those office-holders made up the Industrial Commission, which oversaw the bank and the mill and elevator. The recall was the first successful one of a state’s governor until 2003, when California voters removed Gov. Gray Davis.

But the triple-recall in 1921 wasn’t North Dakota’s first recall. A state senator was the first to feel the burn from voters, in 1920.

John Weber was a Leaguer from Wishek. He represented Logan and McIntosh counties in the House of Representatives from 1917 to 1918, and in the Senate beginning in 1919. On this date in 1920, The Bismarck Tribune reported on the recall effort in Logan County targeting Weber, “the first of a number of recall petitions against league members of the legislature.”

The Tribune reported that farmers who were “aroused at the tremendously increased tax burden” were targeting Weber and seeking to replace him with an independent candidate. In the November election, Weber was “snowed under” two-to-one in votes, beaten by Independent Jacob Schrenk of Ashley. The Tribune reported that Weber “is the first state official recalled under the recall provision.”

After the election, Schrenk visited Bismarck and ascertained that Weber had, ironically, supported the recall measure in the Legislature. Schrenk allegedly told a friend, “I don’t believe that Mr. Weber can feel aggrieved, under the circumstances.” Schrenk served in the Senate until 1922.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

1989 North Dakota Centennial Blue Book.
The Bismarck Tribune. 1920, March 17. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1920, April 22. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1920, October 13. Page 4
The Bismarck Tribune. 1920, November 3. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1920, November 29. Page 4
The Bismarck Tribune. 1921, October 29. Page 1,end%20of%20the%20official's%20term.

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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