Jacobs: Depending on how you count, Burgum is the 32nd (or 33rd) governor
Doug Burgum is either the 32nd or 33rd governor of North Dakota, depending on how you count. A total of 32 individuals have served as governor, but there have been 33 gubernatorial administrations.
This is the usual way to count governors, although it is counter-intuitive. It's also the way that presidents are counted. Donald Trump will be the 45th president but only the 44th individual to serve as president. That's because Grover Cleveland gets counted twice as president because he served two terms that weren't continuous.
Similarly, Bill Langer is counted twice in North Dakota, although he served only one term and part of another.
Of course, Langer looms large on the list of North Dakota governors, even though the best work of his long career was done before he reached the office.
Only one thing can be said about all of North Dakota's governors so far. All of them are men. Heidi Heitkamp, now a U.S. senator, made a serious run in 2000, but came up short.
Burgum stands out in the list for a couple of reasons.
He's likely the richest man ever elected in North Dakota, although a couple of others have been very wealthy men. The first, John Miller, owned a big swathe of northern Richland County, and he had banking and milling interests, too. Louis B. Hanna was a banker who bought a lot of land.
The new governor—though he projects an image of youth and vigor—is among the oldest to serve as governor. Two governors took office before reaching 40 and 16 more before reaching 50. Only three, including Burgum, had passed 60 when they took office: Jack Dalrymple, the most recent former governor, who was 62; Eli C.D. Shortridge, the third occupant of the office, who was 63; and Burgum, who as of Wednesday is 156 days past his 60th birthday.
Also as of Wednesday, Burgum is the governor who's served the shortest length of time. But he has only a week to go to surpass Thomas Moodie's 26-day length of service.
It will take 12 years for him to catch up to Bill Guy, who served 12 years, the record longest tenure so far. John Hoeven was governor for a few days short of 10 years for second place. Guy won more gubernatorial elections, though, because his first two terms were only two years in length.
Tenure in office is a modern phenomenon.
None of the state's first eight governors served more than two years. During the decade of the '30s, the most turbulent period in the state's political history, there were seven governors. That's an average length of service of about 520 days.
That masks the chaos of the time, however; in less than seven months—late June 1934 to early February 1935—the state had four different governors. One of these was Langer, elected in 1932, removed from office when federal charges were laid against him, then elected anew in 1938.
In 1940, he went to the U.S. Senate, a favorite landing place for former governors. Langer is one of six governors to serve in the Senate; several others have tried but failed to win the office.
Two governors became members of the U.S. House, Hannah and Fred Aandahl. Art Link went the other way, leaving Congress to become governor.
Some governors went on to other political positions. Ed Schafer became secretary of agriculture and acting president of UND. John Davis was national commander of the American Legion and director of the Office of Civil Defense. Fred Aandahl was assistant secretary of the Interior for eight years.
John Burke—the first governor to serve three terms, albeit two-year terms—was treasurer of the United States. Frank White, the first governor re-elected, followed Burke in that job (though he preceded him in the governorship).
So there is life after the governorship.
White was a decorated military man, earning the Silver Star in the Spanish-American War. He also served in World War I, though not in combat.
A number of other governors were veterans. The second, Andrew Burke, was drummer boy for an Indiana regiment in the Civil War. Davis saw extensive action in Europe in World War II and was awarded the Purple Heart.
Guy was a gunnery officer in the U.S. Navy during World War II. Allen Olson served in the Judge Advocate General Corps.
Finally, these bits of trivia:
The first governor born in North Dakota was No. 15, Walter Maddock, who was born in Grand Forks. He took office when Gov. Arthur Gustav Sorlie died in office.
Sorlie was also from Grand Forks; the downtown bridge is named for him. These are the only governors with close connections to the city, unless you include those who attended UND, eight by my count.
Every governor elected since 1944 was born in North Dakota. Two—Ragnvald Nestos and John Moses—were born in Norway, almost as good politically as being a native North Dakotan. Two were English by birth.
Five North Dakota governors are Minnesota natives, three were born in New York, two each in Wisconsin and West Virginia and one each in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Iowa.