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Vital Signs

Non-Partisanship

“Here in North Dakota, people vote Republican for president or for local offices because they’re seen as the white party,” North Dakota State University political science professor David Danbom told me.  “But they’ll vote for the Democrats for Congress and some local offices to look after their economic interests in Washington or here at home.”

North Dakota is as good a place as any to see these cultural and political forces in action.  But it is also a place where people on the outside of the elite economic and political structures of the state once used the two-party duopoly to build an independent political force that swept the Upper Midwest from 1915 to 1925.  It was not a new party, like the Progressives of Wisconsin or the Farmer-Labor Party of Minnesota, but an organization that used the Republican and Democratic nominations to advance its own agenda: the Non-Partisan League (NPL).

I am not offering a paean to the League’s socialist policies or its legacy within North Dakota, which includes a state bank that contributes $40-50 million to state coffers each fiscal year and a state grain elevator and mill that, like so many socialist enterprises, struggles every year and is constantly asking the state for more money.  A brief overview of the League’s history, however, may help conservatives, patriots, libertarians, and even the occasional Green understand...

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