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NORTH DAKOTA RECALLED GOVERNOR 82 YEARS AGO\ IN 1921, LYNN FRAZIER'S POPULARITY FELL WITH THE STATE'S ECONOMIC FORTUNES.
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NORTH DAKOTA RECALLED GOVERNOR 82 YEARS AGO\ IN 1921, LYNN FRAZIER'S POPULARITY FELL WITH THE STATE'S ECONOMIC FORTUNES.

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Banks were failing, wheat and beef prices were plummeting, and North Dakota's governor stood accused of promoting radical socialism and wanton sex.

Gov. Lynn Frazier was ousted in 1921 in the nation's last gubernatorial recall election, a sensational but long-forgotten chapter in history that is getting another look 82 years later because of this fall's vote on whether to remove California Gov. Gray Davis.Frazier was thrown out of office midway into his third, two-year term, along with North Dakota's attorney general and agriculture commissioner.

``People liked him, obviously, as a person,' said Jerome Tweton, a retired University of North Dakota history professor. But ``the whole atmosphere in the state at the time was very chaotic and rancorous. You just look at the newspapers for that period of time, and my God, there is all kinds of libelous stuff in there.'

One opposition publication charged that Frazier used North Dakota's public libraries to spread ``the propaganda of free love.' Cartoonists depicted Frazier, a balding potato farmer with a gentle mien, as a puppet and an organ grinder's monkey. The state auditor called Frazier a disgrace and said he should be deported to Russia, ``where the anarchists belong.'

In truth, Frazier, a University of North Dakota graduate and captain of the football team, was a devout Methodist who did not smoke or drink. He refused to hold an inaugural ball because he disliked parties and dancing.

But his popularity fell with the state's economic fortunes and growing disillusionment over a farm-relief program pushed by the Nonpartisan League, an agrarian movement that advocated a state-owned bank and flour mill.

The league functioned as a shadow political party, endorsing candidates like Frazier who would then run on the Republican ticket. But many Republicans considered the league's program a radical and costly experiment in socialism, and it deepened the ideological split in the GOP.

In 1919, the legislature approved the league's program. The governor, attorney general and agriculture commissioner were made members of the new Industrial Commission, which was responsible for overseeing the state-owned businesses.

In 1920, voters narrowly re-elected Frazier but turned control of the North Dakota House over to anti-league Republicans. They approved an audit of the Bank of North Dakota that unearthed evidence of shoddy management.

The bank also came under fire because its top executive lived in a plush hotel at state expense and drew a salary of $10,000, a princely sum at the time. And the league's argument for state ownership was also hurt when the manager of a small, state-controlled flour mill was found to have masked its losses by juggling the books.

Moreover, the end of World War I was followed by a sharp decline in the prices of beef and wheat - North Dakota's principal crop - and falling land values. Dozens of banks failed as the value of their real estate collateral fell. Farmers, thousands mortgaged to the hilt, could not repay their loans.

During the recall debate, one anti-Frazier lawmaker highlighted passages in a book that was being circulated in the public library system. It said open sexual relationships would produce healthier children, and questioned whether marriage was necessary to rear children properly.

It was ``the foulest socialist, anarchistic and free love rot which has ever found a place on a printed page,' the legislator fumed.

Ultimately the voters decided to keep the state-owned flour mill and the bank and throw out the three members of the Industrial Commission. Frazier's recall opponent, Republican lawyer Ragnvold Nestos, became governor.

Frazier rebounded quickly. North Dakotans elected him to the U.S. Senate the following year, and he served for 18 years.

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