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Pretended Session

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July 12 PHOTO Sunbeams enter Memorial Hall in the North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck. Photo by Jack Dura.jpg
Jack Dura
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Sunbeams enter Memorial Hall in the North Dakota Capitol in Bismarck.

The Legislature’s first gathering in the second North Dakota Capitol was for a special session called by the since-deposed governor to investigate his federal court conviction. The building was completed in 1934 after the previous Capitol burned in 1930.

The ‘30s were turbulent for North Dakota politics amid the Great Depression. Gov. Bill Langer was a major figure. A federal jury convicted him in 1934 of conspiracy for soliciting political contributions from federal employees.

On this date in 1934, Gov. Langer called the special session to investigate his conviction. It was a chaotic week. Langer faced removal proceedings, and days later he was indeed ousted, but he refused to go. He declared martial law and holed up in the governor’s office, but eventually he did leave.

The new Governor, Ole Olson, revoked Langer’s order for a special session, but Langer’s allies in the Legislature still gathered in their unfinished chambers. Stained pine desks and miscellaneous chairs were provided, along with a wooden kitchen table to serve as the Senate president’s desk.

Gov. Olson viewed the session as illegal and initially ordered the House and Senate doors locked, but he later relented. Olson also kept National Guard troops posted at the Capitol to prevent violence.

More than 70 of the 113 House members met at the Capitol, reaching a quorum, meaning enough members to do business. The House set up a committee to investigate Langer’s conviction and state government “graft” allegations made by U.S. Senator Gerald Nye. In a speech to the House, Langer denounced his conviction as “political persecution.”

As for the state senate, they did not have enough members attending for a quorum, though the senators present tried to compel colleagues’ attendance. Sergeants-at-arms “nabbed” one resistant senator from the governor’s office and led him away by his arms.

The session soon began to languish, with the House’s quorum dwindling, and the senators sitting idle. After five days, the House recessed and most members went home. The “pretended session” was over.

But a “fact-finding” subcommittee of the House continued to work. Senator Nye sought to give testimony, but the panel wouldn’t give him a hearing.

The following year, the 1935 Legislature saw bitter fights over the bill to pay expenses for the special session, which came to $6,000.

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura

Sources:
The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, June 18. Pages 1, 2
The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, July 12. Pages 1, 7 The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, July 13. Pages 1, 2
The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, July 14. Pages 1, 3
The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, July 17. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, July 19. Pages 1, 2
The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, July 20. Pages 1, 2
The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, July 21. Pages 1, 3
The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, July 23. Pages 1, 2
The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, July 24. Pages 1, 4
The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, July 25. Pages 1, 2
Lincoln State Journal. 1934, July 25. Page 3
The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, August 7. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, August 8. Page 1
The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, August 9. Pages 1, 2
The Bismarck Tribune. 1934, August 17. Page 7
The Bismarck Tribune. 1935, February 12. Page 2
The Bismarck Tribune. 1935, February 13. Page 2
The Bismarck Tribune. 1935, February 16. Pages 1, 7
The Bismarck Tribune. 1935, March 11. Page 2
https://www.history.nd.gov/exhibits/governors/governors17.html

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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