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March 2: End-of-Session Turmoil

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The adjournment of the Legislature often brings a collective sigh of relief. Sessions over the years have ended late at night, often with major issues decided in the last moments. Some sessions ended bitterly, even violently. Here’s a sampling.

A fistfight broke out in the North Dakota Senate chamber in the final hours of the 1921 session after the Senate tried to question two House or Representative attorneys about expenses for a House committee investigation. The attorneys had been arrested and brought to the Senate, but they refused to be sworn. A fracas erupted at the back of the Senate chamber after one of the attorneys was released from arrest and left. In the fight, a former state auditor reportedly “mauled” the state bank examiner’s son, and suffered a black eye and several scratches to his face. A former Golden Valley County sheriff was “laid out cold.” The second House attorney was later released after being detained in a cloakroom and in the attorney general’s suite—instead of the county jail—to avoid a mob in the Capitol rotunda!

In 1935, a state representative accused other House members of bribery. Another representative accused the House speaker of threatening to close the Ellendale Normal School unless a hail insurance bill passed. The speaker said his comments had been made as a joke. The accusations “threw the House into turmoil” in the session’s final hours, according to The Bismarck Tribune.

Vetoes were a contentious issue this month in 1967, when the Republican-controlled legislature overrode a record seven vetoes of Democratic Governor Bill Guy. The governor vetoed a record 20 bills, including one to allow unlimited speed on interstate highways. Another would remove the governor’s authority to issue game and fish proclamations. There was also one that would have banned daylight saving time. The governor vetoed 10 bills when the Legislature adjourned, meaning lawmakers weren’t able to convene to vote on additional overrides. The session was notable in another way: The Legislature hadn’t overridden a veto in 22 years!

In 1901, the Tribune may have hit the nail on the head with its headline after the Legislature adjourned: “The agony is over.”

Dakota Datebook by Jack Dura


  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1901, March 9. Page 1: The agony is over
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1921, March 5. Pages 1, 6: Fistfight in Capitol corridor follows arrest of John Sullivan for contempt of state Senate; Seventeenth session has feverish finish
  • The Ward County Independent. 1921, March 10. Page 1: Senate session closes in brawls and fights; attys. Murphy-Sullivan arrested
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1935, March 11. Pages 1, 2: City returns to normal as assembly ends
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1967, March 1. Page 2: Guy tops Langer record for vetoes
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1967, March 6. Page 7: Record seven vetoes felled by legislators
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1967, March 7. Page 18: Guy vetoes bill asking notice in official paper 
  • Morning Pioneer. 1967, March 14. Page 12: Guy vetoes unlimited N.D. speed limits
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1967, March 15. Page 11: Guy vetoes bill changing action for proclamation
  • The Bismarck Tribune. 1967, December 29. Page 3: Editors pick Legislature as state’s top ‘67 story
  • Legislative Council. (2021, December 20). Legislative sessions - Dates of convening and adjourning since statehood. Retrieved from: https://www.ndlegis.gov/files/resource/library/lsdcass.pdf

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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