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Curtis Eriksmoen, Published January 12 2014

Did You Know That: Frazier only US governor recalled in 20th century

North Dakota was the only state to recall its governor during the 20th century.

On Oct. 21, 1921, voters by a margin of 4,000 votes replaced Gov. Lynn Frazier with Ragnvold Nestos. It took more than 80 years before another state would replace its governor through a recall vote. That happened in 2003 when California voters replaced Gov. Gray Davis with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

The majority of voters in North Dakota did not believe Frazier was crooked or incompetent. They were unhappy with the way he and two other state officials mismanaged the state industrial commission. One year after the recall, voters elected Frazier to the U.S. Senate.

Frazier was elected governor on Nov. 7, 1916, receiving 79 percent of the votes. He was a member of the newly formed Nonpartisan League, a branch of the Republican Party. This was a good year to be an NPL office seeker in North Dakota. In the June Republican primary, all but one of the state office candidates endorsed by the NPL won the Republican nomination. In the November general election, all NPL candidates within the Republican Party were elected. NPL also won control of the state House and picked up some seats in the Senate.

Until then, North Dakota had been run by big-money interests. Because the NPL now controlled every branch of government except the Senate, it advocated for sweeping reforms, resulting in a multitude of new laws. To establish and maintain cohesion, “the League members lived by themselves in the old Northwest Hotel, leased for the (legislative) session. Each night they met in secret caucus in a large hall of the hotel.”

Frazier, William Lemke and A.C. Townley attended these meetings. Strategy was developed to enact parts of the NPL program.

Among the new laws passed were those prohibiting railroad rate discrimination, increasing aid for rural education, giving women the right to vote, reducing the number of hours required for working women, guaranteeing state bank deposits and establishing a “grain-grading system.”

The Legislature also exempted farm improvements from taxation and established a state highway commission and a Consumers’ United Stores Co. to distribute goods directly from manufacturers to consumers.

With high expectations in 1918, Frazier and other NPL leaders geared up for the next election by broadening its platform to include national issues. It “called for a democratic world government, the end of monopoly, full employment with public works for the unemployed, national ownership of public transportation and communication, steeply graduated income and inheritance taxes,” and expansion of civil rights.

The Independent Voters Association was established to challenge the NPL. Frazier and the other state officeholders, except the superintendent of public instruction, were re-elected in 1918. The NPL retained control of the House and gained a majority in the Senate.

During the 1919 legislative session, the NPL legislative majority passed laws creating the Bank of North Dakota, the Home Building Association, a State Mill and Elevator, and an industrial commission. For women, legislators authorized workmen’s compensation, an eight-hour-day and a minimum wage. A constitutional amendment drafted by the NPL came back to haunt them – the ability to recall public officials.

Frazier was narrowly re-elected in 1920. He and the NPL were branded as “socialists” by the opposition. It was learned that the Bank of North Dakota made a large, unauthorized loan to the Scandinavian Bank of Fargo, a bank controlled by the NPL. Construction of the State Mill and Elevator stopped in the fall of 1920 because of a lack of funds. The Home Building Association began building houses without the required 20 percent down payment and began to report monetary losses.

The authorized watchdog for these institutional failures was supposed to be the Industrial Commission, comprised of Frazier, Attorney General William Lemke and Agriculture and Labor Commissioner John Hagan.

The IVA saw this as an opportunity to get rid of Frazier and two other NPL leaders. It began gathering names on recall petitions and by September 1921 had collected 73,000 signatures. Frazier, Lemke and Hagan were turned out of office in the Oct. 21 recall election.

Frazier returned to his farm near Hoople, but his stay was short because the NPL endorsed him for the U.S. Senate in March 1922. Frazier defeated the incumbent, Porter J. McCumber, in the primary election, and then received 52 percent of the votes in the general election, defeating J.F.T. O’Connor.

Frazier was re-elected in 1928, receiving nearly 80 percent of the votes. In the late 1920s, Frazier worked diligently for world peace and was labeled a pacifist and/or isolationist by his opponents.

In 1934, Frazier was re-elected for a third term. He was challenged by William Langer in the 1940 Republican primary and was defeated. He returned to his farm and died on Jan. 11, 1947.

“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your suggestions for columns, comments or corrections to the Eriksmoens at: cjeriksmoen@cableone.net.