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Year of Five Tax Commissioners

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The 1930s were chaotic for North Dakota politics. In one seven-month period, four men served as governor. Similarly, five men served as state tax commissioner over a few months in 1938 and 1939. The tax commissioner oversees state tax collections.

Back then, the governor appointed the tax commissioner. In December of 1938, tax commissioner Owen T. Owen resigned and became manager of the state-owned Mill and Elevator. Outgoing Governor Bill Langer appointed C.P. Stone to replace Owen. Stone was a hotel proprietor in Fargo. A Bismarck Tribune political columnist opined: “If Mr. Stone remains in office more than a week after John Moses takes office as governor it will be a marvel. If he lasts 10 days it will be a miracle.”

New Governor John Moses did indeed appoint a new tax commissioner, ending Stone’s tenure after one week. Moses named Grafton attorney William T. DePuy to the job, but DePuy stayed on the job barely three months before resigning, rumored to return to his law practice.

Governor Moses then appointed deputy tax commissioner Lee Nichols as temporarily in charge. Several weeks later, on this date in 1939, the governor named the chief of the state Regulatory Department to the job; John Gray became the fifth state tax commissioner in as many months. He also happened to be a former state treasurer. He and DePuy had earlier declined when Governor Langer had offered to appoint them as tax commissioner.

In 1938, voters approved making the office of tax commissioner an elected, nonpartisan post. In 1940, Gray was the first person elected to the job, and he served another 12 years, until his death in 1952. In 1986, voters approved making the position a partisan office. Interestingly, several past tax commissioners have gone on to represent North Dakota in the U.S. Senate.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

The Bismarck Tribune. 1938, December 16. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1938, December 17. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1938, December 27. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1938, December 28. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1939, January 3. Pages 1, 3
The Bismarck Tribune. 1939, March 30. Page 2
The Bismarck Tribune. 1939, March 31. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1939, May 17. Page 1

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