On This Date in History: In 2009, North Dakota was ranked 48th in population among the 50 US states with 646,844 residents. Only Wyoming and Vermont had fewer citizens. With such a sparse population, one might assume that all is quiet in the state known offically as the “Peace Garden State” but also is referred to as the ”Flickertail State.” But, there’s actually a lot of activity going on in North Dakota as evidenced by the May unemployment rate at just 3.6%. That’s tops in the nation with neighboring South Dakota coming in second with 4.6%. Both of those numbers represent the top of the rank of states’ unemployment rates and are less than half the national average and way below the unemployment rates of Michigan and Nevada, which check in with 13.6% and 14% respectively. See, there’s millions of barrels of oil sitting under North Dakota and the economy is doing quite well. While the positive activity may make for a tranquil scene today, that was not always the case. See, another moniker for North Dakota is the “Roughrider State.” And the governor of the state in the first half of the 20th century helped the state live up to that reputation.
William Langer was a lawyer in North Dakota who became politcally active in the early 20th century. He was elected as North Dakota Attorney General in 1916 as a member of the Non-Partisan League (NPL) which was rising to power in the early 20th century. Ignoring the traditional Republican and Democrat parties may have been an indication of Langer’s independence and the NPL soon found out just how independent. In 1919, he left the party after accusing it of selling out farmer. He ran for governor in 1920 on the Progressive Republican ticket but lost in a close election to the NPL candidate. He settled his differences with the NPL and in 1932, he and the rest of the NPL candidates were swept into office as the grip of the Great Depression were setting in even though the power of the NPL was quickly fading. Perhaps he got his nickname of “Fightin’ Bill” from the way he went to bat for the farmers. When wheat prices fell, he imposed an embargo on the sale of North Dakota wheat until prices rose. He also imposed a moratorium on farm foreclosures, even calling out the national guard to enforce his orders. I’m not too sure that either of these actions were legal, but his constituents seemed to like it.
Now, old Bill was not just a hard charging depression-era governor. He also liked to tell good stories with funny anecdotes. It is also not surprising that he was also man who enjoyed power and was not afraid to use it whenever it suited him. He had a way of not just inspiring loyalty, but also demanding it of the state employees. They were required to turn over a percentage of their pay checks to his political machine in the form of subscriptions to his newspaper. For some, the fee came to about 5% of the employee’s paycheck. Aside from coercion, there was a snag in the plan and that was that part of the state employees salaries came from the Federal Government. By 1934, the Executive Branch of the Federal Government was run by Democrat President Franklin D. Roosevelt who was partisan enough to change the name of the Hoover Dam to the Boulder Dam out of spite for Herbert Hoover. So, Fightin’ Bill was charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and was convicted on June 16, 1934.
The Roughrider state seems to suits this story because the Supreme Court of North Dakota determined that Governor Bill Langer was to vacate the office of governor on This Date in 1934. The governor of the state, William Langer was to be removed from office and be replaced by Lt. Governor Ole H. Olson. But, the supreme court wasn’t too smart. See, they announced on the previous day that they had issued their ruling effective the next day. Technically, he was still governor on the 17th so, before the court’s order took effect, Wild Bill instead chose to barricade himself in his office along with 10 loyalists. He tossed a spittoon through a window, unilaterally declared that North Dakota was independent from the United States and declared martial law!
He said that he would remain in the Governor’s mansion until he could meet with the supreme court. I’m not sure if he got his meeting or not but, he finally gave in when the state supreme court convinced him that he had no standing as governor, Lt. Governor Olson took over. Langer had been sentenced to 18 months in prison and fined $10,000. After 3 more trials, he was eventually acquitted of all charges. But, while he was managing his legal problems, he was still active in the political ring. He got his wife nominated for Governor against Democrat Tom Moodie. She lost but five days after Moodie took over, Langer had another card up his sleeve. He made it known that Moodie had voted in another state less than five years prior, therefore making him ineligible for office! Moodie resigned and the Lt. Governor took over. North Dakota had four governors in 7 months.
As a free man, Fightin’ Bill ran for governor again and was elected as a Republican, serving as the chief executive of the Roughrider State from 1937 to 1941. After that, the good people of North Dakota thought it was a good idea to send him to Washington as one of their senators. But, his political enemies were not about to listen to the will of the people of North Dakota and a petition was passed around that called for the Senate President to deny him his seat. An expulsion case was brought against Langer and an investigation committee of the Senate listened to some pretty damning testimony regarding Langer’s conduct. During the testimony, Langer was forced to admit that he had paid the son of the judge who had presided over his second and third trials! The committee voted 13-3 against allowing Bill to be seated. But, as it turns out, the 13 who voted against him on the committee was nearly half of those who were against him because the full vote of the Senate ended in a 52-30 vote in favor of Langer becoming a member of the United States Senate. He would never relinquish that seat.
Unsurpsingly, he was against many of the popular items of the day. He was a strict isolationist and voted against the Lend-Lease Act and against the extension of Selective Service (the draft) prior to World War II. But, he did vote in favor of war following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. But, he still didn’t stand down. He was a huge critic of Winston Churchill and on an occasion when Churchill was to visit the United States, he sent a telegram to the pastor of Boston’s Old North Church that asked him to place two lanterns in the church belfry to warn people that the British were coming. In 1958, he was elected to a third term without making a single campaign appearance in his state. He died shortly thereafter in late 1959. The junior senator from West Virginia at the time was Robert C. Byrd who recently passed away as the longest serving senator in United States history. Byrd was honored by having his body lay in repose in the Senate; the first to do so since November 1959 when freshman Senator Robert Byrd witnessed the same honor for North Dakota Senator William Langer. Just two years before Langer, Sen. Joe McCarthy received the same honor, which makes me wonder why the Senate only seems to accord such honors in death for men who had such controversial pasts.
Weather Bottom Line: Twas a very interesting Saturday evening. Snow White and I were at the Bats’ game that began at 6:05 pm. Very hot and humid. There had been a severe storm that had moved across Oldham county but it was gone and there were towering cumulus clouds to our East. As the evening wore on, more towering cu were close enough to bring a good downdraft that knocked about 15 degrees off the temperature and decreased the humidity to the point that it was quite pleasant. When we left about 8:30 after the Bats lost, dark clouds were fairly close on the other side of the river. But, they really weren’t that close. The general storm track was slow and from Clark County across the Southern Oldham, Northern Jefferson County line. Tremendous lightning display for about 2 hours but no wind and by about 11pm we got a few light showers. The track stayed just to our east and northeast and the storms faded as they got to the river. Western Clark County got a couple of inches of rain and we got hardly a thing. That has been the trend for the last several weeks. Southern Indiana has gotten beneficial rains but from Louisville and points south and east are hard up for rain. I say points south and East…if you look at the rain map it pretty much tells the tale because Shelby County got hammered by a very strong storm that produced damaging microburst winds between 2:30am and 3 am Saturday. Snow White and I took our friend Bobby to the Bats game and he had said that at his house around 3AM he had huge winds that moved something in his backyard that he can’t move himself. I told him that we had nothing but heard one rumble of thunder. It’s almost as if Louisville is in a dome. Areas north and west have gotten rain and then areas immediately east and maybe even immediately southwest…everywhere else south and east have been dry. Louisville has kinda been in a semi-donut hole.
Look for your Sunday to be similar to Saturday. After a hot and humid day, both the NAM and GFS feature a short wave that is on the downside of life coming through from the northwest by the evening. The NAM has it late and the GFS has it before sunset. The truth will probably be somewhere in between. The GFS has it stronger but its more compact. The NAM makes it more expansive but less intense. Hopefully, some of us will get some rain because by midweek, the ridge in the Southeast will expand somewhat and most likely limit our rain chances though by the end of the week it seems to contract enough to perhaps allow for more scattered activity by late in the week. No real break in the heat. Hey, it’s summer.