Meet Your New Governor - William Langer: A Profile
William Langer, who has just been elected governor in a state facing drought and depression, is no stranger to North Dakotans. He has been involved in politics for nearly two decades. The 46-year-old Langer is a man of energy, optimism, and savvy. He takes over the leadership of a state that is mired in economic trouble.
Born on a farm not far from Casselton in Cass County to parents of German stock, Langer enjoyed an education unlike that of most farm boys. After he graduated from high school in Casselton, he enrolled in the new law school at the University of North Dakota. In two years, 1904- 1906, he completed the law course and passed the North Dakota bar examination at age 19. Since he could not practice law until he was 21, he went to New York City where he decided to enter Columbia University for an undergraduate degree. He graduated in 1910 and returned to North Dakota.
In politics he identified himself as a Progressive Republican like Theodore Roosevelt. His ambitious goal became clear when in 1910 he told his friends, “I desire now to make a living and a record so I may some day become popular enough to be the most popular man in the state and be given some political office large enough to attract the notice of my former classmates in the East.”
That very year young Langer received his first political office when he was appointed assistant state attorney for Morton County. He earned front-page news coverage when he won cases against the Northern Pacific Railroad that placed the company’s land on the tax rolls. In 1914 Langer was elected state attorney for Morton County. Once again he became “big news” as he vigorously enforced compulsory school attendance laws and closed down illegal liquor establishments. In 1916 the newly formed Nonpartisan League endorsed Langer for attorney general and he won easily. Once again he grabbed front-page headlines when he raided illegal liquor places and bawdy houses in Minot and even, deputized as a U.S. marshal, raided an East Grand Forks, Minnesota, brewery because it was illegally shipping beer into North Dakota.
He won reelection in 1918 but soon got into trouble with the leadership of the NPL. Convinced that the League was going too far away from its original program, he began to speak out against the political groups that had supported him. Unhappy with the NPL, he decided to try for the gubernatorial nomination of the Independent Voters Association.
A master organizer, Langer soon had dozens of Langer for Governor clubs and had a part in starting The Red Flame, a violent anti-NPL publication. He won the IVA’s endorsement for governor in 1920 but lost to Governor Frazier by 5,000 votes. During the 1920s Langer practiced law but kept his hand in the political whirl. Although he had run in 1920 as an IVA candidate, he leaned toward the NPL which by the 1920s was liberal, but far from radical or socialistic. In 1928 he became the NPL’s candidate for attorney general but lost, as did most NPLers. With the NPL’s fortunes at low ebb, Langer, who had done better in the 1928 election than other Leaguers, was appointed the NPL’s lawyer and head organizer. The stage was now set for his run at the governorship.
Langer worked hard to reorganize the NPL as a faction of the Republican Party from the precinct level and up. In many ways the NPL became the Langer League. And, his work has paid off. The Langer League has swept to power. Langer is the only Republican governor elected in the nation this year! He campaigned tirelessly and promised the people better times. Since the NPL dominates the legislature, it’s certain that the new governor will have a friendly legislature.
By Dr. D. Jerome Tweton
Originally published as The North Star Dakotan student newspaper, written by Dr. D. Jerome Tweton and supported by the North Dakota Humanities Council.