A state of governors

It’s been nearly 113 years since Howard Taft beat out Theodore Roosevelt for the presidency, and although we know he ran again in 1912, Woodrow Wilson easily won. Because Roosevelt once lived in Dakota Territory, to this day he remains one of the state’s poster boys. We’re building a Theodore Roosevelt Library, Roosevelt look-alikes roam around Medora in the summer, and just about anywhere you go in the state, you’ll find information about Roosevelt. And rightfully so. He was president from 1901-1909, becoming the president after McKinley’s assassination, and survived an assassination attempt himself.

But did you know, there is a North Dakota native (Roosevelt was born in New York) who went on to run for president but lost in 2012 and 2016? New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson threw his hat in the ring as a Libertarian candidate for president but failed to get 5 percent of the vote. It’s too bad because he was one of the most successful governors the state of New Mexico has had.

Johnson was born in Minot and moved with his parents to New Mexico when he was a child. His father, Earl, was a 1949 graduate of Kenmare High School and became a standout football player at Minot State University. Gary Johnson has been in North Dakota numerous times over the years and has visited Kenmare where his dad was a dish washer at the Irvin Hotel in the early days and was later a stellar athlete at Kenmare High School while also working at the local Red Owl grocery store.

Ever since Johnson became governor of New Mexico in 1994, he’s had success in politics, in the state of New Mexico. Thus, he’s a lot like Rodney Dangerfield - he doesn’t get any respect, most likely because he didn’t actually become president.

Did you know there were seven other governors who lived in North Dakota at one time?

• Horace Austin was a Minnesota judge who had lived in Centralia (now Fargo). He was elected governor of Minnesota in 1869.

• Mayor of Detroit and later governor of Michigan, Hazen Pingree left a successful manufacturing business in Detroit to grow potatoes in Stutsman County in 1880. When Pingree was established northwest of Jamestown in 1881, it was named after Mr. Pingree.

• Albert Chandler was a talented athlete from Kentucky who came to Grafton to play baseball. In 1920, he joined the Grafton team in the Red River Valley League and, when he went back to Kentucky, was elected governor there in 1931. In the 1940s he was appointed commissioner of Major League Baseball, and it was Chandler who ended the ban that allowed Jackie Robinson to sign with the Brooklyn Dodgers.

• Although Arthur Langlie was born in Minnesota, his family moved to Kermit, which was a small town just to the northwest of Noonan. The family later moved to Washington after the hotel his father managed burned. In 1938, he was elected mayor of Seattle and two years later became the governor of Washington.

• Arthur Crane was a school superintendent in Minto and Jamestown before becoming president of Minot Normal School in 1913, which is now Minot State University. In 1921 he became president of the University of Wyoming and in 1946 was elected Wyoming secretary of state. In 1949 the governor resigned, and because Wyoming didn’t have a lieutenant governor, Crane was appointed governor and retired after completing the term.

• Ralph Herseth, who was a student at North Dakota State University in 1928 and 1929, dropped out to be a rancher in South Dakota and served four years in the Legislature. He was later elected governor in 1958 and was defeated when he ran again in 1960.

Most of these people were in North Dakota or Dakota Territory for a short time, but still had that connection. And when you think of the communities - Noonan, Grafton, Pingree, Kenmare - these probably aren’t the communities you’d expect these people to come from.

It doesn’t have to be politics. It could be medicine, sports, law, journalism or entrepreneurship, North Dakota has had a lot of these people live here or pass through here. If only some of them could have been retained - imagine where North Dakota would be then?


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