Nothing New Under The Big Sky

Growing up in North Dakota, you got the impression not much changed.  Ever. 

The retirement of Byron Dorgan prompted me to do some checking – and I had no idea how little changes in North Dakota politics.

Bear with me. 

Dorgan’s been in the Senate for 18 years (following twelve more in the House).  He succeeded Kent Conrad, who kept a pledge to serve only one term (and promptly turned around and won North Dakota’s other Senate seat when Quentin Burdick died immediately before the election, in 1992, after serving since 1960).  Conrad succeeded Mark Andrews  (whom Dorgan had succeeded as North Dakota’s House representative in 1980) in an upset election in 1986.  Andrews had succeeded Milton Young, who had served as North Dakota’s senior Senator since 1945.

Young himself succeeded former governor John Moses, who died after only two months in office.  Moses had succeeded Gerald Nye, who’d served since 1925.

So – except for the 12 year interregnum with Andrews and Conrad, and Moses’ tragically-foreshortened term, North Dakota’s “Class Three” Senate seat has been held by exactly three men in the past 85 years.

The other seat, part of Class 1?  The combination of Conrad and Quentin Burdick takes us all the way back to 1960;  he succeeded the legendary “Wild Bill” Langer (but for a few months with former governor Clarence Brunsdale, who was appointed when Langer died in office), who’d held the office since 1940, succeeding former governor Lynn Frazier, who’d held the office since 1923. 

So – seven men have accounted for almost a century in representing North Dakota in the Senate (and among them they account for much of the same time in the House, too). 

Almost equally odd?  While Young, Burdick and Andrews were all fairly typical pre-Reagan Republicans from a famously Republican state, Dorgan and Conrad are both relatively to the left among red-state Democrats, Nye was an anti-war isolationist, and Langer was a prairie progressive in the “Granger” mold, with not a few allegations of corruption chasing him through his career; he was something of a Huey Long-type figure as both Governor and Senator, with the record to show for it.

Nothing really does change much, it seems, in North Dakota.

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