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7 Months, 4 Governors

2/2/2004:

Today, we bring you the story of four consecutive governors – or five, depending on how you look at it. It was on this day in 1935 that Governor Thomas Moodie had to step down, because the state Supreme Court declared him ineligible to hold office – but wait, let’s start over...

In 1932, “Wild Bill” Langer of Casselton was elected governor; it was a huge victory and the first time that the Non-Partisan League had complete control over the state’s government. He was a rough and tumble sort of guy, and many immigrant settlers – who distrusted slicker-looking politicians – liked Langer for his boisterous opposition to taxes, nepotism and corporate corruption.

A financial crisis was making people desperate, and angry crowds were descending on Bismarck for action. Langer was very ill when he took office, but one of the first things he did was put a moratorium on foreclosures. The state treasury was empty, but he took dramatic moves to raise the price of wheat and lower the salaries and funding of government departments. He cleaned house and appointed persons loyal to himself. He started a party newspaper and asked his appointees to buy subscriptions equal to 5% of their annual salaries, with the proceeds to go toward campaign financing. To make a long story short, Langer also made enemies, and they used a glitch in this fund-raising scheme to bring him down.

Langer was brought before the courts on conspiracy charges, and the state Supreme Court immediately suspended him from office. On July 17th, 1934, republican Lieutenant Governor Ole Olson, of New Rockford, took the top seat while crowds outside shouted, “We want Langer!”

In the meantime, it was coming up on election time, and the republicans chose Langer’s wife, Lydia, for their candidate. Some of the other leaguers wanted the post to go to democrat Thomas Moodie, a newspaper editor from Williston. Well, Moodie won the race against Mrs. Langer and became governor on January 7th, 1935.

Bill Langer, meanwhile, discovered that Moodie had voted in Minneapolis in 1930. State law demanded that a governor “shall have resided in the state for five consecutive years preceding the election,” which shouldn’t have been a problem for Moodie – he had been living in North Dakota for more than 35 years. But between August 1929 and April 1931, he worked for the Minneapolis Tribune as an editorial writer. After only five weeks, the Supreme Court ruled that he didn’t fulfill his residency requirements and disqualified him.

Next in line was Lieutenant Governor Walter Welford, a Leauger from Pembina. He was the state’s fourth governor in seven months.

And what happened to Langer? After a grueling number of trials, he was acquitted of all charges and again ran for governor an independent. It was three-way battle with Governor Welford, now running as a republican, and Hazen democrat, John Moses, who campaigned in English, German and Norwegian. Welford and Moses were both conservative, which split Langer’s opponents, and Wild Bill won the race with only 36% of the vote. He was our 17th and 21st governor.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm