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Dorgan looks to finish line of his Senate term with ongoing projects

WASHINGTON -- Walking through Byron Dorgan's Senate office, there's no obvious indication that in six months he'll vacate those halls. As the North Dakota senator faces his final months as a lawmaker on Capitol Hill before retirement, he says he ...

Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker talks Monday with North Dakota Sen. Byron Dorgan and Deputy Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney before a meeting with federal officials on Capitol Hill to discuss permanent flood protection for the Red River Valley. (Kristen M. Daum/ The Forum)

WASHINGTON -- Walking through Byron Dorgan's Senate office, there's no obvious indication that in six months he'll vacate those halls.

As the North Dakota senator faces his final months as a lawmaker on Capitol Hill before retirement, he says he has a lengthy to-do list of projects he wants to accomplish, but he acknowledged that there'll soon be slight signals of his forthcoming departure.

Among Dorgan's top priorities before December:

- Continuing to advocate for solutions to flooding problems in Fargo-Moorhead and Devils Lake.

- Advancing opportunities with the Red River Valley Research Corridor.


- Securing comprehensive energy legislation, which he helped craft as a member of the Senate Energy Committee.

- Making one final push at passing legislation to allow importation of prescription drugs from foreign countries.

When asked which one of those he'd at least like to have accomplished before his term concludes in December, Dorgan chuckled in his usual hearty laugh and replied, "Oh, I'm going to get a lot of them done."

Dorgan's daily schedule on the Hill continues to reflect that work ethic that's helped him become a powerful influence in Congress, a mentor to his colleagues and a member of Senate Democratic leadership.

For instance, Dorgan led the meetings all day Monday with local, state and federal leaders to advance progress on the proposed Red River diversion and in the process secured the attendance of top officials from the two key federal agencies that will determine the project's fate.

Shortly after the meetings concluded, Dorgan made an emphatic speech on the Senate floor in memory of his former colleague, West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd, who had died earlier that day.

Tuesday morning, Dorgan met with President Barack Obama and with Obama's chief of staff Rahm Emanuel at the White House to advocate for the energy legislation and his prescription drug proposal.

Then that afternoon, the senator was again bustling back and forth from the Capitol to his corner office on the third floor of the Hart Senate Office Building a short trek -- or underground Capitol subway ride -- away.


Among the items on his schedule: He attended the Senate Democrats' weekly policy lunch, followed shortly after by a quick procedural vote on the Senate floor.

While going about his duties in Washington, Dorgan's energetic charisma reflects his North Dakota roots. He welcomingly answers questions from Capitol Hill reporters as he makes his way between meetings and will offer the "Senators only" elevator to anyone waiting for a ride -- federal lawmaker or otherwise.

Dorgan has commented previously on how much he loves the Senate, and he reiterated that sentiment during an interview Tuesday afternoon with The Forum.

"I'll miss most the people I work with," Dorgan said, sitting behind his desk in his Capitol Hill office. "You develop a routine and a muscle memory of working long hours."

But Dorgan said he won't miss the "incessant travel" required by the job -- especially after an estimated 900 to 1,000 roundtrip flights between North Dakota and Washington during the past three decades as a congressman and senator.

"It's an exciting place to be," Dorgan said, sharing stories and describing his love of Congress. "It's very hard to get to the United States Senate, it's hard to stay here, and it's also hard to leave here."

But as the days left in 2010 quickly tick by, it's a reality Dorgan soon faces.

His staff is beginning to make arrangements for that time, first by cleaning house of the various documents Dorgan has accumulated during the past 30 years.


All of those papers will be gathered out of federal storage facilities nationwide, cataloged by his staff and donated to UND, he said.

"Other than that, that's about the only evidence you'll see in my office that we're coming to the end of the year," Dorgan said. "I have a lot of energy, and I work on a lot of things. I'm going to work like a runner that runs through the tape at the end of the race, and then I'm going to transition into something else that I think will be really interesting."

That "something else" still hasn't been determined, Dorgan said, even though he acknowledges many are curious about his future.

The senator said he won't discuss specific plans or prospects until the end of the year because of Senate ethics provisions.

And beyond mulling ideas about what he might like to do, he said he's also not actively seeking a post-Senate job.

"It's not appropriate for me to be discussing in any detail with anybody a prospective job, so I have not done that and will not do that until I'm done with the Senate," he said. "It's not a case of my looking for a job or looking for work."

"There are a number of things that will be available," Dorgan said, "and I'm trying to decide: Do I want to run an organization? Do I want to do something other than that? Do I want to continue doing some things in the public good, particularly in the international nonprofit areas? So, we'll see, but I'm not doing anything to manifest that."

The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead and the Herald are owned by Forum Communications Co.

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