The eyes of the nation have been on the removal of Rod Blagojevich from governorship of Illinois, but what many have forgotten or never known is that North Dakota has had two governors removed from office.
The first was Thomas Moodie, who served January-February 1935. It had been revealed that Moodie did not satisfy residency requirements to be governor and was removed from office.
The second, and far more controversial, was William “Wild Bill” Langer, who served two stints as North Dakota Governor. His first term, from 1933-1934, ended in his forced removal from office following two felony convictions .
Even though Langer’s initial term was short, lasting just over one year, it was filled with important events. It was the heart of the Great Depression. Langer was also governor during the final stages of completion of the new North Dakota Capitol, replacing the former capitol that burned down in December 1930.
It was during the construction of the new capitol that Langer faced his first significant issue, when the construction laborers went on strike. The strike lasted for weeks and resulted in several arrests and several injuries. To settle the dispute, Governor Langer would eventually call in the National Guard and declare martial law.
The capitol was completed in 1934, but the eyes of North Dakota and the nation was focused elsewhere, on the forcible removal of William Langer as governor.
Langer was facing two felony charges, conspiracy to extort funds from federal employees; and blocking orderly operation of an act of congress.
Four coconspirators stood trial with Langer. The accussed all faced a maximum possible fine of $10,000 and up to two years in prison.
Langer was sentenced to eighteen months in prison, and required to pay a fine of $10,000. Three of his co-defendants were sentenced to thirteen months in prison, with a fine of $3,000. The remaining co-defendant, Harold McDonald, was sentenced to only four months.
Despite having been found guilty on two felony counts, Langer did not willingly step down. Instead, he declared martial law and called a special session of congress, where he would appear before the house and proclaim “I am still your governor.” Langer also asked for the impeachment of all members of the supreme court and Ole Olson, who had already been recognized by the United States congress as the official governor of North Dakota. Langer has declared North Dakota’s succession from the United States.
Langer eventually was forced to step down, and Olson took his place. Langer remained a resident of the governor’s mansion through the remainder of what would have been his term.
Even following his felony convictions, and his controversial actions following, Langer remained extremely popular amongst North Dakota citizens. Interestingly enough, his wife Lydia, ran for governorship later that year, but lost.
The following year, Langer was acquitted of all charges. He would once again be elected governor of North Dakota, serving his only full term from 1937-1939. He then went onto represent North Dakota in the United States Senate until dying in office in 1959.
Langer was a member of the Nonpartisan League (NPL), who was mainly responsible for the creation of several key industries, including the Bank of North Dakota and State Mill. The NPL was created to represent the common man against the then-powerful “McKenzie Machine,” despite many similarities between the two groups. The NPL dominated local politics for many years.
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