WDAY: The News Leader

Published January 18, 2011, 08:41 AM

Senator Conrad's retirement announcement sends political shock waves across the state

(WDAY TV) - A shocking announcement from longtime North Dakota Senator Kent Conrad. He is retiring. Conrad says there are some big issues to tackle and another campaign would just be a distraction. The news was unexpected from the man who has served in the senate since 1986 and is the current chairman of the powerful budget committee.

He says he came to the decision to retire over the holidays after talking it out with his family. Conrad has just under two years left in office.

There are some major issues he wants to tackle in that time including reducing the nation's 14 trillion dollar debt and our dependence on foreign energy. He also wants to work on a new farm bill and get flood protection for the Red River Valley and Devils Lake.

SEN. KENT CONRAD(D) North Dakota: “You know the people of North Dakota have given me a lot of responsibility and I am eternally grateful for that and it's been a joy representing the people of North Dakota.”

President Obama released a statement on the news of Conrad's retirement saying in part: "While I am saddened to see him leave the Senate, I look forward to working with him during the next two years on the important issues facing our country."

Conrad will leave office when his current term ends in January 2013.

The Conrad announcement sent political shockwaves across the state. Democratic and Republican leaders are scrambling to figure out what names will be "thrown in the hat" for a run at the Conrad seat.

The 62-year old Conrad was in his thirties the night he upset Republican Mark Andrews. “A stunning victory few predicted.”

“The slogan was yes we can. Now we can say, yes we did.”

As shocking then is the announcement he will not run again and instead focus not on re-election, but a 14-trillion dollar debt.

“I admire him so much because he knows what he has to do.”

Longtime Conrad mentor and former Governor George Sinner says, “There are a lot of people who want to hold these jobs not a lot who want to do the job and Kent is dedicated to doing what is right and I agree we are on the verge of a crisis a serious crisis.”

The open Conrad seat now means Republicans and Democrats across North Dakota will be scurrying about like church mice to tap a new face for that Senate Seat.

Republican Party activist and talk show radio host Chris Berg says, “We have all 12 or 13 state wide seats are Republicans and huge majority in the Senate and who are they going to put up in a predominantly Republican state? I don't know.”

In recent months, North Dakota has witnessed three lawmakers with 60-year of experience in Washington each step down from the Hill, beginning a new page for the state's history books.

What impact will Conrad's announcement have on our flood fight? The retirement comes at a time when local leaders are relying on Washington to help with funding flood prevention and diversion projects.

Senators Dorgan and Conrad, along with Congressman Pomeroy, have guided flood money through Congress. Now, new faces will be called on to help.

DARRELL VANYOCass Co. Commissioner: “Obviously when a new one comes in they will get up to speed as quickly as they can, but like anything with public office, the years you are there you have networking, so it will be missed no doubt.”

Vanyo says both Senators Conrad and Dorgan have invited local leaders to Washington to meet with officials there about flood fight legislation.