From the Bismarck Tribune, September 23, 1933.
An important name in North Dakota politics in the first half of the 20th century, the plentifully named Thorstein Hartvig Haugen Thoresen was a native of Norway who, following immigration to the United States, found distinction through public service in his adopted state of North Dakota. A former state's attorney, state tax commissioner, and candidate for attorney general and governor, Thoresen would serve one term as Lieutenant Governor and for four years was the mayor of Grand Forks. In the twilight of his career, Thoreson re-emerged on the political stage, announcing his candidacy for U.S. Senator from North Dakota in the 1950 Republican primary.
While largely consigned to history's dustbin in the decades since his death, Thoresen's political career extended over four decades and was frequently featured in editions of the Bismarck Tribune, amongst other state newspapers. His life began in humble circumstances in Horten, Vestfold, Norway on December 9, 1885, one of nine children born to Thor Henrik (1843-1894) and Maren (Pedersdotter) Thoresen (1841-1904). He removed to the United States with his family while still a child and settled in Stoney Creek township in Grant County, Minnesota. His early education was obtained at St. Olaf's Academy in Northfield, Minnesota. He graduated in 1909, and in the following year relocated to Dunn County, North Dakota, where he farmed and taught school for a time. Wanting to pursue a career in law, Thoresen enrolled at the University of North Dakota Law School in 1911. He continued there until the death of a brother necessitated his leaving school, and afterward took over management of his brother's farm in Ottertail County. He reentered the University of North Dakota in 1914 and graduated in the class of 1916. Thoresen had earlier married in Grant County, Minnesota on July 31, 1912, to Inga Mendine Vigen (1888-1951), to who he was wed for nearly forty years. The couple's union produced seven children, Cynthia Miranda (1913-1999), Theresa (born ca. 1915), Hans Vigen (1916-1979), Aurelia Mendine (1918-2003), Valborg A. (1922-2007), Thordis (1923-2012), and Shirley Lamoine (1924-1989). Establishing his law practice in Dunn County, Thoresen quickly became active in the affairs of his community, being a member of the board of education and a trustee of the Normanna Lutheran Church. In 1916 he helped to found a 16 piece band in Dunn Center, of which he served as president. In the year following he was elected as treasurer of the Dunn County Bar Association, and in 1918 made his first move into politics when he announced his candidacy for state's attorney for Dunn County. He was elected that November and served two terms, 1919-1923.
From the Bismarck Tribune, February 26, 1925.
By 1924 Thoreson had aspired to higher office, and at the Nonpartisan League convention held that February he received the nomination for state attorney general. Like other league candidates that year, Thoresen took to the campaign trail, giving addresses throughout the state touting the party's platform. On May 21, 1924, he delivered what was called the Nonpartisan League keynote address at McClusky, North Dakota, declaring "Let us clean our government of graft and corruption." In an address chronicled in the Bismarck Tribune, Thoresen further related that:
"Come join us in our fight for Democracy...Let businessmen, laborers, farmers and professional men join hands in this fight. It is a fight where all good citizens belong. Let us put this program over and demonstrate once and for all that we are going to rid ourselves of the shackles of industrial slavery which is sinking down thousands, yes millions, of good Americans every year."
Throughout the year Thoresen continued to address large crowds, including a joint address with U.S. Senator Lynn Frazier at the Bismarck Auditorium that June. Opposing Thoreson that year was Republican nominee George Shafer (1888-1948), a former state's attorney for McKenzie County. On November 4 it was Shafer who emerged the winner, besting Thoreson by a vote of 95,638 to 70,022. Despite his defeat, Thoresen's name was later bolstered for state tax commissioner in the early part of 1925, and after being offered the post by Governor Arthur Sorlie, accepted.
From the Bismarck Tribune, July 1, 1929.
Following conformation, Thoreson threw himself into his duties, and his four-year tenure in that post saw him acknowledged as "an indefatigable worker for the interests of the state." Thoresen and his staff were responsible for "the assessment of all state property, the collection of the state income tax and the state inheritance tax, in addition to the state, county, and local taxes." Upon his retirement from office in 1929, Thoreson reflected on his tenure, remarking:
"The first task I met, and the first thing that I saw needed, was to arouse the people generally and the officials of the state to get equality of assessment. There must be equality between taxpayers...The people are beginning to realize there is such as thing as far treatment between individuals. My idea was, and still is, that all taxpayers must pay, and that they will pay more willingly if they know all are paying alike. The work of the tax commission has doubled since I took office, probably because we have been too willing to work."
While still the incumbent commissioner in February 1928, Thoreson attended the Nonpartisan League state convention, where his name was put forward for governor. He quickly led in the vote count, and after the third round of balloting, won the party's endorsement. Early in his candidacy Thoresen gained a firm backer in another oddly named political figure, state treasurer Chessmur Arlen Fisher, who was profiled here in September 2019. As both were serving in state government at the same time, the men grew to be friends and following Thoresen's nomination Fisher accompanied him to a campaign banquet in Lunds Valley, where both were guests of honor. Thoresen also made his first address there since winning nomination two months prior. In June 1928, Thoresen (again accompanied by Fisher) joined with then-Governor Arthur Sorlie in a massive rally held in Rice Lake. Attended by over 6,000 people, Thoresen and Fisher spoke on "reviewing the state industries", and were both endorsed by Governor Sorlie, a fellow Nonpartisan League politician. Thoresen's gubernatorial opponent in that year's primary was George Shafer, the same man who had bested him four years previously for attorney general. Both candidates continued to stump the state through the next few weeks and on election day (June 27) it was Shafer who again won out, polling 9,000 more votes than Thoreson. Shafer went on to win the governorship in the general election and won a second term in 1930.
A Thoresen for Governor advertisement from the Bismarck Tribune, June 21, 1928.
After Shafer was elected governor, Thoresen continued with his duties as state tax commissioner until his resignation in July 1929. He was succeeded by Shafer-appointee Iver Acker, and following his resignation continued residence in Bismarck, where he practiced law. In 1930 he and his family removed to Grand Forks, and in that year was briefly considered as a gubernatorial candidate, but withdrew his name from nomination during the February Nonpartisan League (NPL) convention. Although not an elected official, Thoresen remained active in the affairs of the NPL, and in a June 1930 party address assailed the Shafer administration's handling of state finances. In 1932 Thoresen again announced a gubernatorial bid, beginning his candidacy that February in Grand Forks. Taking the Shafer administration and the legislature to task over wasteful spending, Thoresen remarked that "through legislation, the masses have been taxed for the benefit of the few and this brought on the depression." Unlike his 1928 candidacy, Thoresen's campaign didn't extend past March, when the NPL nominating convention chose William Langer as its gubernatorial nominee. Langer subsequently won the governorship that November. Not one to let a loss get the best of him, Thoresen launched a fourth gubernatorial bid in 1934. With William Langer in the hot seat due to alleged illegal campaign contributions, the camp of anti-Langer NPL delegates formally endorsed Thoreson for governor that March. He would hit the campaign trail once again in preparation for the June primary, and on election day lost out to Langer in a very lopsided contest, polling 47,380 votes to Langer's 113,027. Langer was subsequently removed from office a few weeks later by an act of the state supreme court, this extending from the financial impropriety that had dogged him throughout the campaign.
The Thoresen family, from the 1934 Bismarck Tribune.
Thorstein H.H. Thoresen's political fortunes improved with his 1936 candidacy for Lieutenant Governor of North Dakota. That March he received the NPL endorsement for the nomination and that June won the primary. In November, Thoresen emerged the victor, beating Democratic nominee P.H. Costello by over 11,000 votes. Thoresen served from 1937-39 under Governor William Langer, who had been returned to the governor's chair in 1936, having been acquitted of the charges against him. Thoresen's political career continued on the upswing after his term as lieutenant governor concluded. Having returned to his law practice in Grand Forks, he successfully ran for mayor of that city in April 1940, defeating Democrat Ralph Lynch by a margin of 432 votes. His mayoralty extended until 1944, and during term served as both vice president (1942) and president (1943) of the Grand Forks County Bar Association. In 1950 Thoresen made a final attempt at elective office when he entered the Republican primary race for U.S. Senator from North Dakota. Hoping to oust one-term incumbent Milton R. Young (1897-1983), Thoresen was dealt a 58,653 vote loss margin in the June primary. Young would go to win in the general election and was returned to the senate on four more occasions, retiring in 1981 after three decades of service. Following his senatorial defeat, Thoreson removed back to Bismarck and in 1951 suffered the death of his wife of nearly 40 years, Inga. He would remarry the following year to Elizabeth B. Earl, a native of Minneapolis. Thoresen continued prominence in his region during the final years of his life, being a member of the legislative department in the Office of Price Stabilization (1951-52), and in 1952 was appointed as an assistant attorney general for North Dakota. He continued residence in Bismarck until his death at a city hospital on April 16, 1956, at age 70. He was survived by his second wife and all of his children and was interred at the Memorial Park Cemetery in Grand Forks.
From the Bismarck Tribune, April 17, 1956.