Dakota Datebook

William Guy

Wednesday, November 5, 2003

On this date in 1968, William L. Guy became the first North Dakota governor ever elected to a fourth term. He served 2 two-year terms and 2 four-year terms between 1961 and 1973.

Governor Guy was a 41 year-old farmer from Amenia when he was inaugurated. He was born in Devils Lake and has the unusual distinction of being the first to bring a true two-party system to the state.

In the state’s earliest years, North Dakota was governed by Republicans who were aligned with powerful Eastern interests such as the railroads and grain trade. Republicans continued to dominate state politics, and those who had radically different notions joined the Non-Partisan League, a Socialistic party that was nevertheless associated with Republicans. There was also a vigorous independent party, but few North Dakotans had really yet espoused the Democratic Party.

At the time, the richest men in the nation completely dominated the country’s economy, as well as its government. Men like Rockefeller, Carnegie, James Hill and many others were fabulously wealthy and wielded their power with little compassion for the little man. When Republican Teddy Roosevelt ran for president, his campaign attacked corporate greed and corruption, and demanded better conditions and opportunities for farmers and working people.

Roosevelt’s concerns mimicked those of many North Dakotans. Here, the Republican party still favored the wealthy, and the political views of those who represented the common man began to shift. William Guy was one Non-Partisan man who decided the Democratic party was the answer. Usher Burdick, a long-time Republican senator, had started shifting as well, and his son, Quentin, ran as a Democrat during the same time that William Guy and John F. Kennedy ran for office. All three won their elections, with Quentin Burdick being the first Democrat North Dakota ever sent to the U.S. Senate.

Under William Guy’s 12-year watch, state government was modernized with a new Office of Management and Budget, and the State Hospital’s patient load was reduced from 2,600 to 600 by creating eight regional mental health districts. He also oversaw the interstate highway system, the missile projects and the Garrison Diversion project. To better promote the state, Guy organized the five-state tourist loop known as the Old West Trail; he also originated the North Dakota Heritage Center and established the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Award.

On a national scale, Guy organized the first Midwest Governors’ Conference, and was elected chairman of the National Governors’ Conference in 1966. He also helped bring three sugar beet refineries and large scale, coal-fired, electrical generation to the state. In fact, it was Governor Guy’s efforts within the coal industry that ultimately led to the construction of the nation’s first coal-to-synthetic natural gas conversion plant near Beulah.

And finally, the man who started out as a county agent became an international presence when President Lyndon Johnson selected him to observe the first presidential elections in South Vietnam.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from Prairie Public.

Dakota Datebook is a project of Prairie Public, in partnership with the State Historical Society of North Dakota, with funding from the North Dakota Humanities Council.

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