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Politics of North Dakota

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The Politics of North Dakota are modeled after that of the United States, whereby the Governor of North Dakota is both head of state and head of government. Executive power is exercised by the Governor, and Legislative power is vested in both chambers of the North Dakota Legislature; the House of Representatives and the Senate. Judicial power is vested in the North Dakota Supreme Court, which is independent of the executive and the legislative branches. The political system's foundation was created in the North Dakota Constitution in 1889.

The political leanings of the state since its creation have been largely conservative. However, there is also a vein of political radicalism within the state's history. The liberal Non-Partisan League (NPL) was a strong political force during the first half of the 1900s with the election of many NPL candidates to government offices and the enactment of the party's largely socialistic programs. Today, the major political parties in the state include the Republican Party and the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party. The state's Republican Party controlled the state government in its early days and still maintains a stronghold today, with 11 of the 12 partisan statewide officers being Republican.

Political history

1889 to 1904

North Dakota began as a Republican Party stronghold upon its foundation in 1889, with John Miller as Governor. In 1890, however, an insurgency by the Farmers Alliance created an Independent Party to challenge the "McKenzie Gang" that dominated the Republican Party.[1] The state's Democratic Party at the time was very weak, so it fused with the Independent Party and the combination, known as the Democratic-Independent Party, virtually took over the state's government overnight in the 1892 elections. Governor Eli C. D. Shortridge, Lieutenant Governor Elmer D. Wallace, Attorney General William H. Standish, Insurance Commissioner James Cudhie, State Auditor Arthur W. Porter, State Treasurer Knud J. Nomland, and Superintendent of Public Instruction Laura J. Eisenhuth were all part of the D-I party and were all elected in 1892. The only state office not taken over was the Secretary of State, which remained in Republican control. The D-I control was short-lived, however, as all of the mentioned officials were defeated by Republicans in 1894. While the Republican control over the next 10 years was criticized by Progressives, the state made strides in industrial development. Large lignite mines opened near Beulah and Wilton, and brickworks and flour mills soon opened throughout the state. The railroad industry also boomed in the state during this period, and many cities were formed along the tracks.

1905 to 1919

Despite the progress made by the Republican Party by 1905, political upheaval began to grow once again as Republican progressives united with Democrats to elect John Burke as the state's first Democratic Party Governor. While the Democratic Party did not gain control of any other state wide offices, Burke's election began a reform era. During the next decade, a series of other movements began to take place. In 1907, a new co-operative movement, the American Society of Equity, came to the state and by 1913 become well established in the state. A second movement, the North Dakota Socialist Party, gained momentum as many of the state's immigrants by 1905 were radicals. Both the cooperative and radical movements criticized the Republican Party and demanded change. These movements created the Nonpartisan League in 1915; a political organization that would become one of the biggest insurgencies in the United States. The NPL, led by A. C. Townley, united progressives, reformers, and radicals behind a common platform that called for a massive reformation of the state's government including the creation of more government, and the state ownership of banks, mills, and elevators. The NPL used the 1916 primary election to take control of the Republican Party, and the Republican/NPL Party dominated all state government by 1918, and enacted its reformation program in 1919. Its administration, headed by Governor Lynn J. Frazier, instituted many reforms in state government; among them were re-organization of state services, expansion of educational services, development of health care agencies, and improved regulation of public services and corporations.[2]

1920 to 1930

While the NPL was enacting its many Government reforms, the anti-NPL movement gained strength after the end of World War I. The movement charged that the NPL's leaders, many of whom were former Socialists, were opponents of American participation in World War I. The anti-NPL forces coalesced in late 1918 into the Independent Voters Association. The IVA attacked the NPL on many fronts, which rapidly brought disunity within the NPL, splitting apart many of the cooperative and radical groups that had supported the league. Economic distress also became rampant by 1919, caused by the decline in grain prices in the recession that followed WWI. This, in addition to a drought the western part of the state diminished the NPL support. In 1920, the IVA took control of the North Dakota House of Representatives, and in 1921 it forced a recall election that deposed Governor Frazier, Attorney General William Lemke, and Commissioner of Agriculture and Labor John N. Hagan. The recall effectively ended the NPL's reign, one that significantly altered North Dakota government for years to come. The state-owned Bank of North Dakota is a product of the NPL that still remains today. During the mid and late 1920s, a struggle between the NPL and the IVA ensued, with the state's constitutional offices, including that of the Governor, constantly changing parties. The decade ended with fire destroying the State Capitol building, and the IVA once again gaining control of state politics.

1931 to 1960

During the early 1930s, state Government was once again under the control of the conservative IVA. By 1932, however, a revitalized NPL returned to the forefront and elected William Langer as Governor. While in office, Langer took bold actions including a massive cut of state spending, and eventually began to disregard the law. This led to a Federal investigation that eventually had Langer removed from office in late 1934, so Lieutenant Governor Ole Olson finished his term. The state's Democratic Party made a comeback in the 1934 election when Thomas Moodie was elected, however the success for the party was short-lived when it was discovered that Moodie did not meet residency requirements and had to be disqualified. Walter Welford succeeded Moodie, but was defeated in the 1936 election by an exonerated William Langer. The turbulence in the Governor's office finally ended in 1938 when Democrat John Moses gained control and held the office for six years. By 1943, seeking a way to overturn the Democratic control, the IVA Republicans coalesced into the Republican Organizing Committee (ROC), and regained the Governor's office by 1944. The insurgency left a crippled Democratic Party struggling to re-organize. As the Republican ROC controlled state politics into the early 1950s, the Democratic Party and the NPL, the state's two liberal parties, were forced to merge into the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party by 1956. The Republican Party and the Democratic-NPL Party became the two main parties in the state, which remains true today.

1961 to present

Since the unifying of the conservatives into the North Dakota Republican Party and the unifying of the liberals into the Democratic-NPL Party in the 1950s, the two parties have been the main focus in state politics. The Dem-NPL Party made a comeback by 1960, and held the Governor's office for 20 years until Republican Allen I. Olson was elected in 1980. The Democrats regained the office again from 1985 to 1993 with George Sinner, but since 1993 Republicans have controlled the office. While the Democrats made some strides in trying to control the state's constitutional offices such as Attorney General and Tax Commissioner in the 1980s, today all of the statewide offices are held by Republicans, after the resignation of Agriculture Commissioner Roger Johnson, and the appointment of Doug Goehring by Republican Governor John Hoeven.

Political institutions

As in the national government of the United States, power in North Dakota is divided into three main branches: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial.


The capital of the state is Bismarck and the current Governor of North Dakota is Jack Dalrymple, a Republican. His first term began on December 7, 2010. The Lieutenant Governor of North Dakota, elected on a joint ticket with the Governor, is Drew Wrigley. Wrigley concurrently serves, by virtue of his office as Lieutenant Governor, as the President of the North Dakota Senate. The offices of Governor and Lieutenant Governor, as well as all of the other executive offices with the exception of Public Service Commissioner, have four-year terms. The Governor is assisted by a State Cabinet consisting of the assembled heads of the various executive departments.

All of the thirteen state-wide executive offices are contested in elections, and all but the North Dakota Superintendent of Public Instruction are on a party-affiliated ballot.

Current executive branch

Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
Governor of North Dakota Jack Dalrymple Republican December 7, 2010
Lieutenant Governor Drew Wrigley Republican December 7, 2010
Secretary of State Al Jaeger Republican January 1, 1993
State Auditor Bob Peterson Republican January 1, 1997
Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem Republican January 1, 2001
State Treasurer Kelly Schmidt Republican January 1, 2005
Insurance Commissioner Adam Hamm Republican October 22, 2007
Tax Commissioner Cory Fong Republican June 1, 2001
Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring Republican April 6, 2009
Superintendent of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler Republican January 1, 2013
Public Service Commissioners Brian Kalk Republican January 1, 2009
Randy Christmann Republican January 2013
Julie Fedorchak Republican December 2012


The State Capitol of North Dakota

The North Dakota Legislature is a bicameral body consisting of the Senate and House of Representatives, with all members elected directly by the people of each district. The House of Representatives has 94 members, each serving a four-year term. The Senate has 47 members, each serving a four-year term. The state does not limit the number of terms that a legislator can serve; Brynhild Haugland notably served for 52 years in the House, a national record that still stands today.

Current composition

In the 60th Legislature (2007), the Republicans control the House of Representatives (69 to 25) as well as the Senate (35 to 12).

The North Dakota House of Representatives

Template:American politics/party colors/Republican/rowTemplate:American politics/party colors/Democratic/row
Affiliation Members
Republican 69
Democratic-NPL 25
 Total 94

The North Dakota Senate

Template:American politics/party colors/Republican/rowTemplate:American politics/party colors/Democratic/row
Affiliation Members
Republican 35
Democratic-NPL 12
Total 47

Current Leadership

The North Dakota House of Representatives

Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
Speaker of the House David Drovdal Republican 2011
Majority Leader Al Carlson Republican 2003
Minority Leader Jerry Kelsh Democratic-NPL 2011

The North Dakota Senate

Main office holders
Office Name Party Since
President of the Senate Drew Wrigley Republican 2010
President pro tempore Rich Wardner Republican 2011
Majority Leader Rich Wardner Republican 2011
Minority Leader Ryan M. Taylor Democratic-NPL 2011

Federal representation

Map of North Dakota showing is at-large congressional district

North Dakota's two U.S. Senators are elected at large:

North Dakota currently has one at-large congressional district. There was a 2nd and 3rd district, but they have since been eliminated.

U.S. House of Representatives:

Gallery of North Dakota's congressional delegation

Third political parties

Under state law, there are technically no major or minor parties, only 'organized' parties that are entitled to equal rights under the law [1].

In the 1990s the Reform Party and the Natural Law Party both formally organized in the state, but the national in-fighting in these two parties in 2000, caused their decline. As of 2006, the Constitution Party and the Libertarian Party both have organized state chapters.

The North Dakota Libertarian Party is the most active of the organized third parties in the state. In 2004, Roland Riemers and Mitchell Sanderson were the libertarian candidates for state governor and received 4,193 votes, just over one percent [2]. In 2006, Riemers ran for United States Senate and received a similar result [3].

Yet, it is rare for third parties to nominate candidates for certain offices, especially the state legislative, because State primary rules require a minimum number of primary voters before an organized party's candidate can go onto the general election.


See also


External links