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Published January 19 2011

Forum editorial: Conrad still has work to do

The announcement Tuesday by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., that he will not seek re-election can be characterized as a political bombshell. His decision certainly alters the political landscape in the run-up to the 2012 elections.

But politics is only one factor in a decision the senator has been contemplating for some time – and for the senator, not the primary factor. As has been true throughout his U.S. Senate tenure, Conrad’s work for his state and nation is paramount. As he’s said again and again, the economic problems confronting the nation require solutions based on statesmanship and pragmatism, not political advantage. And as he’s demonstrated recently, he can work across the political divide to develop strategies to prevent economic catastrophe.

His retirement in two years, therefore, is motivated in large part by his determination to immerse himself in a campaign to right the nation’s economic ship, rather than engage in a political campaign in which he would have to spend a lot of time raising money and running for re-election.

And to be sure, the North Dakota political campaign of 2010 set a dismal standard for nastiness, prevarication and character assassination that likely would have been repeated had Conrad sought re-election. Thoughtful North Dakotans will understand if the senator’s decision turned in part on his reluctance to jump into another political mud bath.

But politics aside, Conrad’s service to his state and nation elevates him to one of the Senate’s most respected senators. His time on the Budget Committee as either ranking member or chairman established him as a genuine expert in all things budget. His capacity for hard work is legendary, not only among his staff and colleagues but also among reporters and others who have had opportunities to shadow him during a Senate workweek. His ability to cut through dense thickets of economic and financial data and get to the heart of the debt/deficit time bomb has defined him as the Senate’s go-to guy for strategies and solutions. Whenever such weighty and threatening matters were discussed, Conrad has been at the table.

He intends to be there for the next two years, devoting his time and skills to restoring the nation’s financial footings. He was among those often-dismissed voices that warned about the nation’s economic risks long before the financial meltdown, housing crisis and subsequent recession. The depth of the recession was a two-by-four across the mule’s head: It got the nation’s attention.

Conrad has served his state and nation with uncommon civility, intelligence and effectiveness. The good news is he will continue to do so for the next two years. The not-so-good news is he will end 25 years of outstanding Senate service in 2012.

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