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June 11: Governor Sorlie’s open door policy

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Leading up to the June 11 primary, we've been celebrating democracy in North Dakota history. Today, we learn about Arthur G. Sorlie, of Grand Forks, who was endorsed by the Nonpartisan League to become governor in 1924. Sorlie had become part of the discord being experienced by the Republican party. The Bismarck Tribune noted that that Leaguers going to the upcoming County Convention were instructed “to use their influence” to help Sorlie win.

Sorlie did win the election, serving as the 14th governor of North Dakota, succeeding IVA-Republican Governor R. A. Nestos. IVA stood for the Independent Voters Association. It had formed to counter the Nonpartisan League's socialist influence on the state’s Republican Party.

Sorlie took office in January 1925 and was re-elected in 1927, again with NPL backing. However, his second term was cut short when he died in 1928. While citizens of the state mourned his death, many words of tribute were spoken in his honor. Bertha Palmer, the superintendent of public instruction, said he was “an indefatigable worker, but never too tired to give a smile and a pleasant word in greeting.” State Treasurer C. A. Fisher said Sorlie “at all times worked for the interest of the people of North Dakota in an earnest and sincere way.” George Shafer, then-attorney general who would later become governor, said, “His death was, no doubt, hastened by the burdens and cares of his office, for he gave unreservedly of his strength and talents in the service of the state.”

Perhaps most remarkable, was his “open door” policy, which by all accounts he maintained to “keep as close as possible to the people who elected him.” A true servant-leader, he wanted to meet with the people, no matter age or status. According to reports, “He was especially popular with children and unfailing in kindness and courtesy…. Teachers often conducted their classes through the Capitol building and visited the governor’s office. It was a rare occasion when the executive did not find time to bid them welcome.”

Dakota Datebook by Sarah Walker


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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