With two Governors dangling on strings against a backdrop of the State's new $2,000,000 skyscraping Capitol at Bismarck, North Dakota last week treated the nation to an extraordinary political puppet show. Lieut.-Governor Ole Olson, in shirtsleeves held up by blue garters, sat in the Governor's chair, issued proclamations, ruled the State. But to thousands and thousands of sunburned, wind-bitten North Dakota farmers, William Langer was still their rightful Governor.
The show started last week when the North Dakota Supreme Court issued an order ousting Governor Langer from the office to which he was elected in 1932. According to the State court, Langer was disqualified because in Federal Court last month he had been convicted of conspiracy to defraud the U. S. out of $179.50 in relief funds, had been fined $10.000, sentenced to 18 months in jail (TIME, June 25). Before he was ousted Governor Langer declared martial law, summoned a special session of the Legislature.
Ole Olson, who moved into the Governor's office, revoked martial law, cancelled the call for the special Legislative session. But a pack of Legislators went to Bismarck anyway. Because "Bill" Langer is a hugely popular politician, because he was renominated for the Governorship after his Federal conviction, because North Dakota farmers believe he is defending them against the ogre of Big Business, his partisans decided to hold the special session, regardless of Ole Olson. The House, topheavy with Langermen, quickly met and organized, but the Senate was stalled by the lack of quorum. William Langer appeared before the House, cried "I am still your Governor," invited its members to start impeachment proceedings against himproceedings that were certain to end in a whitewash. The House promptly obeyed, 63-10-9. Later the House was expected to impeach Ole Olson, this time in all seriousness.
Ole Olson is a farmer, 61, and father of nine children. In 1932 he was a candidate for Governor but Langer had the greater support, so Olson ran for Lieutenant Governor on the same ticket. As soon as Langer was convicted the two Republican factions split. Neither side controls the necessary two-thirds of the Senate required to convict an official impeached by the House.
Five hundred farmers, who had trekked in to Bismarck to lend Langer moral and, if necessary, physical support, climbed the hill to the Capitol to hear Acting Governor Olson, in shirt sleeves and blue Barters, declare: "Little did I dream 40 years ago when, as a farm boy, I came here from Wisconsin and with my first yoke of oxen broke up this prairie, that such a day as this would come. . . . For 38 years I paid my taxes on time, then, three years ago, I couldn't meet my taxes. A man's first duty is to his family. I have nine children. I don't blame you for seeking help."
The crowd gave him a cheer and then marched back down hill to listen to Lawyer Langer speak at the Patterson Hotel.
Next day the Langer partisans in the Senate, trying desperately to muster a quorum, sent out two husky sergeants at arms to muster absent members. They found Senator C. W. Fine, a weather beaten little farmer, in the Governor's council chamber, forcibly dragged him to the Senate floor.