Lloyd Omdahl, Published October 02 2011
Omdahl: ND ‘dirt farmer’ left mark
They had decided to launch a two-party system in North Dakota, beginning with the takeover of a Carrington meeting that afternoon called by Sen. William Langer to reorganize the young NPL.
Well, the dirt farmer not only became a leader in the insurgent movement to form a two-party system in North Dakota, but he went on to a remarkable career in the state Legislature, the U.S. Congress and the worldwide Food for Peace program.
Rollie first appeared in the state Senate in 1959, where he served three sessions before being elected to the U.S. Congress in the Lyndon Johnson landslide in 1964. (He returned to the state Senate in 1973 and continued until 2000, where he stood in the “moderate middle” with such outstanding senators as Frank Wenstrom of Williston, George Longmire of Grand Forks, Evan Lips of Bismarck and Don Holand of Fargo.)
While in Congress, Rollie had the opportunity to work in one of the most important congressional sessions in the 20th century.
He always hailed his role in passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 as his most important contribution in Congress. The law broke down the electoral barriers erected throughout the South that prevented African-Americans from voting. It was the Magna Carta for black Americans, and as a result of the legislation, they were soon electing local, state and national leaders across the South.
As a farmer, Rollie took a particular interest in using farm surpluses to feed hungry people around the world. So it should be no surprise that he was one of the drafters of the Food for Peace bill passed in the 1965 session. After losing his seat in the off-year Republican 1966 sweep, he monitored the Food for Peace program worldwide as a consultant to the U.S. Agriculture Department.
Closer to home, Rollie’s service in Congress has been an endless boon for North Dakotans. He was there to cast his vote for the creation of Medicare and Medicaid.
Though now in need of fiscal refinancing, the Medicare program has become a medical mainstay for the 110,000 North Dakotans who depend on it to pay for their new knees and hips, their doctor visits and their prescriptions. And the importance of Medicare is growing as North Dakota’s aging population keeps increasing.
Medicaid extended health care to thousands of North Dakota families in poverty – a last resort for the 60,000 uninsured. More important to many relatives of patients in long-term care, over 60 percent of the residents in nursing homes are funded by Medicaid.
Both Medicare and Medicaid have been such successful programs that their popularity has become a major deterrent to dealing with the federal deficit. While it is true that the programs have become fiscal headaches, they also have given medical security to millions.
All through his public career, Rollie never lost his gentle Christian demeanor, something that is often sacrificed for political advantage in this age of vindictive politics.
It is obvious that the modest guy who started politics by calling himself “just a dirt farmer from Crosby” left a pretty big imprint on the world.
Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and a retired University of North Dakota political science teacher.