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A NPL Requiem on its 100th Birthday

By Staff | Sep 4, 2015

The Nonpartisan League is dead.

The Nonpartisan League died some years ago, but it was not announced officially before. So, as secretary of the organization, I am reporting that I have been on cemetery patrol for several decades and herewith certify its demise.

The secretary’s position has been mine since 1968, when the Democratic-NPL convention last elected the NPL executive committee.

My claim to the office has been based on the old rule that you hold office until your successor has been qualified. My 55-year run based on such specious authority must belong in the Guinness Book of Records.

The passing of the League has not been sudden. The end was on the horizon when the Insurgents and the United Republicans divided the organization between them in 1956, with the organization merging with the Democrats and a sizeable block going with the United Republicans.

The NPL executive committee was kept alive to prevent political manipulators from claiming the organization for their own political agendas and there were several occasions when that was a proposed.

Whenever such a threat was made, NPL Chairman S. F. “Buckshot” Hoffner would call a meeting of the committee to announce that the League was alive and not for sale. (He, too, has held office for 55 years.)

With the passage of time, the committee kept losing members. As genuine Leaguers (pre-1956) became more difficult to find, we added folks who would have been Leaguers had they been old enough at the time.

But the last nail in the NPL coffin was driven by the Democratic Party this year, when it failed to acknowledge in any significant way the 100th anniversary of its founding.

The “political prairie fire” was ignited during the 1915 session of the Legislative Assembly when a Fargo legislator allegedly told a group of disgruntled farmers to “go home and slop the hogs.”

The farmers had been clamoring for help in combatting exploitation by the railroads, chain grain elevators, Minneapolis banks and milling companies. Their solution was a state-owned mill and elevator and a bank.

Well, slopping hogs did not sit well with A.C.Townley, of Beach, or Fred Wood, of Deering, so they planned a nonpartisan rebellion against both parties. Townley had been an organizer for the Socialist Party, so he knew how to capitalize on the unrest in the rural areas.

By 1918, the NPL had seized control of both houses of the Legislature and authorized creation of the State Mill & Elevator and the Bank of North Dakota. So even though the League has passed into history, these two socialistic institutions have prospered in conservative North Dakota and now make generous profits for the state general fund.

The 1956-1960 merger of the NPL and the Democratic Party had immediate success, electing a Congressman in 1958 and a governor in 1960. However, in recent years, the Democratic-NPL has not been able to hold its own. Soon it may require a requiem.

But things change. The League has had 60 years since the merger to prove that it has nothing more to contribute to the political system.

There are no political predators seeking to take over the NPL for its political value, primarily because it has no value in an electorate made up of voters who have never heard of the Nonpartisan League, Insurgents, United Republicans or Old Guard.

So the era of the Nonpartisan League is over. Even so, I have no intention of resigning as state secretary and there is no one around with the authority to strip me of the office.

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