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Lloyd Omdahl, Published July 15 2012

Omdahl: 3 made ND better place

While many North Dakotans have made significant contributions to the state and communities, the efforts of three such individuals deserve special mention upon their passing. In some ways, their unique contributions have gone unnoticed.

For many, Sen. George Longmire, R-Grand Forks, was best known as a majority floor leader in the state Senate, but George played a larger role in state affairs than leadership in the Senate. He was a key player in building the two-party system that had eluded North Dakota from 1916 through 1956.

In his day, the Nonpartisan League filed candidates in the Republican primary to oppose the candidates offered by the regular Republicans, then known as the Republican Organizing Committee.

As the “insurgents” fought to wrest the NPL from the “old guard” during the 1950s so they could file NPL candidates in the Democratic primary, Longmire was busy as chairman of the Republican Unity Committee.

His task was to reconcile the old-guard NPL state officeholders with the ROC Republican officeholders and get them running together on one unified ticket. This was no minor challenge as both groups had developed a strong dislike for each other after years of bitter competition. But Longmire, a paragon of diplomacy, won them over and a united Republican ticket ran in 1956. He had done his part to bring a two-party system to North Dakota.

Arnold Holden of Bucyrus (Adams County) was virtually unknown, and he liked it that way. But his contribution continues to affect every North Dakota resident casting a ballot in primary elections.

When I was on Gov. William Guy’s staff in the early 1960s, Holden would occasionally stop by to complain about the lack of secrecy in primary elections. At that time, voters were required to declare publicly before the election board the name of the political party for which they wished to vote. They would then be handed that party’s ballot.

Without funds for legal assistance, Holden prevailed on me to draft the language for a secret primary system in which voters would no longer declare their party preference but get a ballot listing all parties. Then voters would vote for the candidates of the one party they preferred.

Holden single-handedly gathered the required 12,000 signatures to put the proposal on the ballot. In the November 1962 election, his proposal was approved 110,000 to 81,000 and voters have had a secret primary ballot ever since.

Don Gackle of Garrison was a fellow member of Sigma Delta Chi, the professional journalism fraternity, at the University of North Dakota when we first became acquainted in 1950.

After graduation, Gackle spent some time with the Greater North Dakota Association, forerunner of the state Chamber of Commerce. Then he went into the newspaper business, buying the McLean County Independent, an entity that became publisher of a chain of weeklies in central North Dakota.

But Gackle was determined to serve his community and his profession beyond his circulation area.

Steve Andrist, publisher of the Divide County Journal in Crosby and the Tioga Tribune, put it best:

“Don was pretty much the guy who put the word ‘community’ into community newspapers,” Andrist noted, because Don believed that community newspapers and vibrant communities went together.

“For many years he was president of the North Dakota Newspaper Association Education Foundation and was responsible for developing the group’s three pillars – continuing education for newspaper people, literacy for all and promotion of the First Amendment and open government.”

As president of the NDPA Education Foundation, Gackle spent many years encouraging the development of a newspaper industry that would attract young people from across North Dakota into the publishing field.


Omdahl is a former North Dakota lieutenant governor and a retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmatters@q.com