Dakota Datebook

Governor Recall

Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Today, California voters cast their yea or nay in the attempted recall of their governor. What many North Dakotans don’t realize is that our state has the dubious distinction of having once recalled a governor; in 1921, Lynn Frazier was the first and only state governor to ever be recalled.

Lynn Frazier grew up near Hoople in the sod house built by his homesteading parents. He was a hard working man who took over the farm and then got involved in politics when he agreed with other farmers that the railroad and Eastern corporations were working together to cripple the state’s farmers. Land prices were down, farmers were suffering, beef and wheat prices were plummeting, and banks were failing.

Critical of government and corporate greed, the Non-Partisan League was a fledgling movement that was striving for changes that would protect farmers and help them to prosper if they would just take charge of their own destinies.

In 1915, farmers went to the legislature to protest their conditions and were told to stop trying to tell lawmakers what to do, and to “go home and slop the hogs.” Infuriated, farmers joined the NPL in droves, and in the next election, the party gained not only the governorship but also managed to elect a two-thirds majority in the state’s legislature and all seats on the Supreme Court.

At long last, the NPL was able to establish its long-desired cooperatives designed to help farmers get out from under conditions that were bleeding them dry. Under Frazier, the legislature established a state-owned grain mill and elevator in Grand Forks and a state-owned bank in Bismarck. They championed the women’s suffrage movement, with Frazier signing the bill in 1917. They enacted an industrial commission, created a state-owned hail insurance company, and initiated disability compensation.

But there was trouble in paradise. Because the NPL was pushing for government reform, they were branded as disloyal and subversive. There was infighting in the ranks. Opponents played on people’s fears relating to the NPL’s radical ideas and even capitalized on the revolution that distant Russia was undergoing. Frazier was labeled a dangerous Red, a socialist, a Bolshevik, a communist. Soon, a smear campaign was launched, calling for his recall. Tempers ran so high that fistfights broke out on the floor of the state legislature.

In a particularly bizarre attempt to discredit Frazier, one tenacious opponent publicized several passages from a library book, which stated that open sexual relationships could make for healthier children. The lawmaker’s point? Frazier was promoting free love propaganda through the public library system.

Frazier supporters were outraged – the governor was a staunch Methodist, a Sunday School teacher, a non-drinker, a non-smoker, a conscientious farmer as clean cut as Beaver Cleaver’s father.

However, the fear mongering of Frazier’s opponents worked, and in a recall election on October 28th, 1921, R. A. Nestos defeated Lynn Frazier by about 4,000 votes.

Frazier’s son later said that his father wasn’t all that disappointed to walk away from office; he was having a hard time making ends meet on his governor’s salary of $3,000, and he needed to get back to his farm.

But the following year, having had time to think about how they’d been bullied into ousting this great man, North Dakota voters brought Frazier back into politics, electing him to the first of three 6-year terms to the United States Senate.

California… good luck.

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm

This text and audio may not be copied without securing prior permission from North Dakota Public Radio.

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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