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Ryan Johnson, Published November 05 2012

Conrad: ‘Remote’ chance of serving as ag secretary

FARGO – North Dakotans could see familiar faces on President Barack Obama’s next Cabinet if he’s re-elected today.

National Journal reported last month that North Dakota Democratic Sen. Kent Conrad is among the front-runners to serve as agriculture secretary if Tom Vilsack doesn’t come back – speculation that Conrad said he doesn’t agree with.

“I think it’s extremely remote that I would be asked to serve,” he said.

But Conrad said the article might not be too far off with another prominent North Dakota Democrat – former Sen. Byron Dorgan, who’s said to be a leading candidate for energy secretary if Steven Chu leaves his post.

“I think it is possible that Sen. Dorgan might be asked to be secretary of energy, and I would be strongly supportive,” Conrad said. “That would be great for our state; it would be good for the country.”

Dorgan declined to comment on that possibility.

Background experience

National Journal, which reports political news and analysis, came up with Conrad and Dorgan as potential Cabinet members based on their congressional background and work with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

Dorgan, 70, has a history of working on energy policy, and also boasts years of service on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

His political career began at the age of 26 when he was appointed North Dakota’s tax commissioner, and he went on to serve six terms in the U.S. House before being elected to the U.S. Senate in 1992. He declined to run for re-election in 2010.

Conrad, 64, succeeded Dorgan as tax commissioner in 1980 and has been in the U.S. Senate since 1986, currently serving as chairman of the Senate Budget Committee and also holding a spot on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.

Conrad said if a president were to ask him to join the Cabinet as agriculture secretary, it’s something he’d have to give “strong consideration.”

“But, honestly, it’s not something I’m eager to do,” he said.

Conrad said he’s still undecided what he will do once his fifth term in the Senate comes to an end in January. After 26 years in Congress, he isn’t running for re-election.

He said he’ll spend his remaining time in office prepared to move ahead with a new farm bill and plans to restore the federal government to fiscal order, if lawmakers are ready to move on these topics during the lame-duck session.

Conrad said he’ll still travel to Washington with his wife, Lucy Calautti, who represents Major League Baseball, and they will keep their house in Bismarck. But he’s hoping for a slower pace and more time with loved ones after decades in the Senate.

“I’ve been very honored to serve, I really have,” he said. “But at some point as you get older, missing those birthdays, missing those anniversaries, missing other family events, that’s something that you don’t want to continue.”


Readers can reach Forum reporter Ryan Johnson at (701) 241-5587