Published December 10 2010
Farewell, senator: Dorgan offers some advice, optimism in outgoing address
His power to fund much-needed flood protection projects in communities across North Dakota.
His advocacy for Indian affairs issues and expertise on energy policy.
Or, any of the accomplishments North Dakota’s Democratic senator could name after serving 30 years in the U.S. Congress.
During his official farewell Thursday, Dorgan said his biggest achievement wasn’t a legislative act – just a few precious moments during his first month in Washington that changed his life forever.
“Thirty years ago next month, I stepped into the elevator on the ground floor of the Cannon Office Building,” Dorgan recalled. “Between the ground floor and the fourth floor, I got her name.”
The name was Kimberly, now Dorgan’s wife of 25 years.
It’s common for outgoing lawmakers to give farewell speeches, in which they’ll often discuss their various accomplishments from their time in Congress.
But Dorgan humbly said little on his own successes – instead, using his 30 minutes to instill advice to the next Congress and ask Americans to see the hope Dorgan says lies ahead.
Dorgan reviewed his legislative career representing North Dakota in Washington and thanked the colleagues and staff he’s worked with and his family for their support.
In his 40 years of public service, Dorgan said he strived to represent the views of “ordinary folks,” like the family farmer, the small businessman or the labor worker.
“It is important, it seems to me, that we do the right thing as best we can and as best we see it,” he said.
Dorgan said he’s served with 211 senators during his 18 years in that chamber of Congress – calling his Senate colleagues “the most talented men and women with whom I have ever worked.”
Dorgan recalled poignant memories of past lawmakers, who influenced him over the years: Sens. Ted Kennedy, D-Mass.; Bob Dole, R-Kan.; Strom Thurmond, D-S.C.; and Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va.
He highlighted four “big, big issues” that he says leaders should focus on:
- Education: “For America to succeed, we’ve gotta fix our schools,” Dorgan said, saying an average 30 percent dropout rate is unacceptable. “We need the best schools in the world with the best teachers in the world if we’re going to compete.”
- Federal spending: “We also have to get rid of this crushing debt,” Dorgan said. “We’ve been on a binge, and it’s gotta change. … It’s time for this country to sober up on fiscal policy.”
Dorgan called for a responsible financial industry and for fair trade policies that promote American manufacturing businesses and jobs.
“We’re not going to be a world power if we don’t have world-class manufacturing capability in this country, and it’s dissipating before our eyes,” he said.
- Energy: America’s dependence on foreign oil “holds us hostage,” Dorgan said.
“We need to produce all kinds of energy here at home,” he said. “We need to conserve more. We need more energy efficiency. We need to do all these things to promote stability and security in this country.”
- Indian affairs: “They were here first,” Dorgan said of Native Americans. “They now live in Third World conditions in much of this country, and we’ve got to do better. We’ve got to keep our promises, and we’ve got to honor our treaties.”
Dorgan, chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, praised members of the current Congress for passing five key pieces of legislation that benefited Native Americans.
“This Congress, as tough as it has been, has done more on Indian issues than the previous 40 years,” he said. “But it is not nearly over.”
In general, Dorgan said “the noise of democracy” can be “incessantly negative” and distracts from the significant issues facing the country.
“That’s not America. This country is full of good – it’s full of good things, good people and good news,” Dorgan said. “We face some pretty big challenges – but our grandparents and great-grandparents, they faced challenges that were much more significant. And they prevailed.”
Dorgan’s life and political career
- May 14, 1942: Born in Dickinson, N.D., and raised in Regent, where his family worked in the farm equipment and petroleum business and raised cattle and horses.
- 1964: Earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of North Dakota. Two years later earned a Master of Business Administration from the University of Denver.
- 1967: Served as North Dakota deputy tax commissioner.
- 1969: Appointed North Dakota tax commissioner at age 26, the state’s youngest constitutional officer. Elected in 1972 and 1976.
- 1974: Defeated in run for U.S. House of Representatives by Mark Andrews.
- 1980: Elected to the U.S. House, serving six terms.
- 1992: Elected to U.S. Senate.
Re-elected in 1998 and 2004.
- 1998: Named chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee.
- 2002: Proposed the creation of a Red River Valley Research Corridor to attract research funding and high-tech companies to North Dakota.
- Jan. 5, 2010: Announced he won’t seek re-election. His term ends Jan. 3, 2011.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Kristen Daum at (701) 241-5541