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Published December 19 2010

Forum editorial: Dorgan’s legacy is secure

North Dakotans will be enjoying the fruits of Sen. Byron Dorgan’s legislative successes long after he’s a chapter in a history book. The North Dakota Democrat’s 30 years in Congress (12 in the House, 18 in the Senate) have been distinguished by his concentration on all things North Dakota.

His achievements, particularly in the Senate, have been game-changers for his state.

Dorgan is not seeking another term in the world’s greatest deliberative body. Instead, he’s stepping out of the political limelight at the top of his game. And make no mistake about it: The senator’s influence and legislative skills will be missed by the people he served so well for three decades. He has directed federal resources into the state as long-term investments in everything from university research to farm supports, from Air Force base rescue to American Indian programs, from water projects to biofuels incentives.

The list is long. But among his many accomplishments, the Red River Valley Research Corridor and its associated research outreach might very well be his most important legacy. In only eight years, the corridor concept has become a burgeoning public/private reality. By the end of this year, about $700 million of federal investment will have been applied to creating an innovative, technology-based economy in the region. And that amount does include millions of dollars of private-sector and university investments that have been committed to the state’s research sector.

It could not have happened without Dorgan’s push to change the way federal research dollars are distributed among the states. Partnering with the late Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, Dorgan successfully pushed legislation to direct more federal research money to smaller research campuses, such as the University of North Dakota and North Dakota State University. It did not take long for the schools to crank up their research capabilities in several specialized disciplines. In short order, university partnerships included national laboratories and major out-of-state companies. The seeds planted by the senator and his allies in the research corridor effort already are growing the state’s economy in ways not possible just a decade ago.

Dorgan could be a tough partisan. He is proud of his Democratic/

populist roots. He never abandoned his core political beliefs, which were forged in part by his growing up in Regent, N.D. But he rarely let those beliefs prevent him from forging compromises, collaborations and partnerships that advanced the economic and social health of his state.

A politician, a senator, a partisan – to be sure. But first and foremost, a North Dakotan. That defining factor distinguishes his record of public service. North Dakotans of all political persuasions know that about him. That’s why they re-elected him again and again by landslide margins.

Dorgan’s legacy as one of North Dakota’s great senators is secure. We wish him well in the next chapter of his life.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.