Byron Dorgan

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Byron Dorgan
Byron Dorgan, official photo portrait 2.jpg
United States Senator
from North Dakota
In office
December 15, 1992 – January 3, 2011
Preceded by Kent Conrad
Succeeded by John Hoeven
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Dakota's At-large district
In office
January 3, 1981 – December 15, 1992
Preceded by Mark Andrews
Succeeded by Earl Pomeroy
Tax Commissioner of North Dakota
In office
March 31, 1969 – January 6, 1981
Governor William Guy
Arthur Link
Preceded by Edwin Sjaasstad
Succeeded by Kent Conrad
Personal details
Born (1942-05-14) May 14, 1942 (age 73)
Dickinson, North Dakota, U.S.
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Kimberly
Alma mater University of North Dakota
University of Denver
Religion Lutheran - ELCA[1]

Byron Leslie Dorgan (born May 14, 1942) is a former United States Senator from North Dakota and is now a senior policy advisor for a Washington, DC law firm. He is a member of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party, the North Dakota affiliate of the Democratic Party. In the Senate, he was Chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee and Chairman of the Committee on Indian Affairs. Dorgan announced on January 5, 2010 that he would not seek re-election in the 2010 North Dakota senate election, and he was succeeded by North Dakota Governor John Hoeven.[2] Dorgan is now co-chair of Government Relations Practice for the Washington, DC law firm Arent Fox.[3] He also serves as a Senior Fellow at the Bipartisan Policy Center, where he focuses on issues related to energy policy.[4] Dorgan is also a co-chair of BPC's Energy Project.

Early life, education, and business career[edit]

Dorgan was born in Dickinson, North Dakota, the son of Dorothy (née Bach) and Emmett Patrick Dorgan, and was raised in Regent, North Dakota. His father's family was of Irish and Swedish ancestry.[5] He graduated from Regent High School and earned a Bachelor of Science from the University of North Dakota in 1964 and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Denver in 1966. Dorgan worked in management for a Denver aerospace firm, eventually earning a position training others for high-ranking company positions.

Early political career[edit]

Dorgan's public service career began at age 26, when he was appointed North Dakota State Tax Commissioner. He was the youngest constitutional officer in North Dakota's history. He was re-elected to that office by large margins in 1972 and 1976, and was chosen one of "Ten Outstanding State Officials" in the United States by the Washington Monthly magazine. Dorgan served as tax commissioner of North Dakota from 1969 until 1980. His future Senate colleague Kent Conrad worked in the same office before succeeding Dorgan at this post. Dorgan ran unsuccessfully for a seat in Congress in 1974. He was elected to the United States House of Representatives in his second bid in 1980. He was a member from 1981 until 1992, being re-elected five times.

U.S. Senate[edit]


In 1992, the Democratic incumbent, Kent Conrad opted not to run for re-election because of a campaign promise. Dorgan won the election for the seat. However, that September the state's other senator, Quentin Burdick, died and Conrad ran for the seat in the special election. Conrad took the new seat in 1992 and Dorgan assumed Conrad's old seat a few weeks early. Dorgan was re-elected in 1998 and 2004. Conrad later was elected for a full term from North Dakota's other Senate seat.


When Byron Dorgan was the chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, he was one of the most powerful Democrats in the Senate. He was considered "something of a liberal hero."[3] In his later years of his senate career, he had been increasingly sought by the national media for comment on political issues. He was a strong opponent of U.S. policy toward Cuba. He has introduced, with varying levels of success, several amendments to end the U.S. prohibition on travel to Cuba, and to terminate funds for anti-Castro broadcasting. Dorgan has also opposed most bills "liberalizing" trade policies between the USA and other countries. He has a mixed record on tort reform issues, voting against the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act and the Class Action Fairness Act, but voting in favor of the vetoed Common Sense Product Liability and Legal Reform Act and the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

In 1999, Dorgan was an early voice of concern over lack of regulation of financial derivatives, which would later be a central issue in the subprime mortgage crisis and subsequent 2007–2012 global financial crisis:[6]

We are moving towards greater risk. We must do something to address the regulation of hedge funds and especially derivatives in this country, $33 trillion, a substantial amount of it held by the 25 largest banks in this country, a substantial amount being traded in proprietary accounts of those banks. That kind of risk overhanging the financial institutions of this country one day, with a thud, will wake everyone up.

Senator Dorgan was one of only eight members of the Senate to vote against the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act (the Gramm–Leach–Bliley Act) in 1999.[7] He would later state that the 1999 legislation repealing the "Glass-Steagall Act" "will in my judgement raise the likelihood of future massive taxpayer bailouts (cited in John Lanacaster, Whoops, London, 2010, p.161). On September 26, 2008, against a backdrop of growing economic turmoil caused by the Credit Crunch, David Leonhardt of The New York Times singled out a quotation made by Dorgan in 1999[7] during the US Senate's repeal of the Glass–Steagall Act. "I think we will look back in 10 years’ time and say we should not have done this, but we did because we forgot the lessons of the past, and that that which is true in the 1930s is true in 2010".

In 2008, he was one of the first politicians who spoke of the oncoming economic downturn in a speech to the Senate on January 23 which was in response to then President Bush's economic stimulus package.[citation needed]

In 2007 he was a major supporter of Net Neutrality legislation in the Senate. He sees this as essential to keeping the Internet open and democratic.[8]

In 2007, he was a major opponent of the McCain-Kennedy Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (S. 1639) saying that the legislation would continue the downward push of illegal aliens on the wages of American workers.[9]

In 2009, he voted against an amendment to the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act of 2009. He joined all 39 voting Republican senators and 12 Senate Democrats.[10]

Dorgan has three times[11] introduced a bill forming a new committee modeled after the 1940s Truman Committee to oversee Government waste, fraud, and corruption in the giving of governmental contracts.[12]

In 2009, Dorgan voted to approve the $838 billion stimulus package. This vote passed 61-37 in the United States Senate.[13]

In 2009, Dorgan sided with fellow Democrats to make funds available to modify or build facilities to allow Guantanamo detainees to be brought to the United States. This was a reversal from a previous vote to not allow federal funds to be used to transfer or incarcerate Guantanamo inmates.[14]

Although Dorgan had indicated in early 2008 he would seek a fourth term in the Senate,[15] on January 5, 2010, he issued a statement announcing he would not run for re-election. In it, he insisted that the "...decision [was] not a reflection of any dissatisfaction with my work in the Senate, nor [was] it connected to a potential election contest [in the fall of 2010] (frankly, I believe if I were to run for another term I would be reelected)."[citation needed]

He is briefly featured in Michael Moore's documentary Fahrenheit 9/11, in which he discusses the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks. He was not being interviewed by Moore.[citation needed]

Committee assignments[edit]


Personal life[edit]

Dorgan is married to the former Kimberly Olson, an Executive Vice President and lobbyist for The American Council of Life Insurers. Together they have two children, Brendon and Haley. From his first marriage, Dorgan has a son Scott who has two children, Mason and Madison, and had a daughter Shelly, who is deceased.

Campaign contribution controversy[edit]

In November 2005, Dorgan was accused of receiving campaign contributions from people who worked for companies connected to lobbyist Jack Abramoff. Because Dorgan is the top Democrat on the committee investigating Abramoff, questions were raised about a possible conflict of interest.

In a statement released on November 28, 2005,[16] Dorgan responded by asserting that he has never personally met Jack Abramoff, nor has he ever received money from Abramoff. Dorgan did acknowledge receiving money from Abramoff's clients, but the donations began prior to their involvement with Abramoff. Dorgan's statement went on to say that he has supported the programs that benefited Abramoff's clients years prior to the contribution.

Dorgan's statement pointed out other errors in the news reports, such as correcting who made a call to the Department of the Interior and for what purpose. The news reports claimed that one of Dorgan's staff members made the call in order to express support for the program that benefited Abramoff's clients, whereas in reality it was a staff member for the Chairman of the Interior Subcommittee who made the call, and the call was made in opposition to the program.

On December 13, 2005 Dorgan announced that he was returning all donations from Abramoff's clients as a precaution that the contributions may have been directed or requested by Abramoff.[17]


  • Dorgan, Byron Reckless!: How Debt, Deregulation, and Dark Money Nearly Bankrupted America (And How We Can Fix It!) Thomas Dunne Books (2009) ISBN 0-312-38303-7
  • Dorgan, Byron Take This Job and Ship It: How Corporate Greed and Brain-Dead Politics Are Selling Out America Thomas Dunne Books (July 25, 2006) ISBN 0-312-35522-X
  • Dorgan, Byron (editor) Electric Transmission Infrastructure and Investment Needs: Hearing Before the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, U.S. Senate Diane Pub Co (January 2003) ISBN 0-7567-2997-1
  • Dorgan, Byron and David Hagberg Blowout Forge (2012) ISBN 978-0-7653-2737-6
  • Dorgan, Byron and David Hagberg Gridlock Forge (2013) ISBN 978-0-7653-2738-3

Electoral history[edit]

U. S. Senate elections in North Dakota, Class III: 1992–2004[18]
Year Democratic Votes Pct Republican Votes Pct 3rd Party Party Votes Pct
1992 Byron L. Dorgan 179,347 59% Steve Sydness 118,162 39% Tom Asbridge Independent 6,448 2%
1998 Byron L. Dorgan 134,747 63% Donna Nalewaja 75,013 35% Harley McLain Reform 3,598 2%
2004 Byron L. Dorgan 212,143 68% Mike Liffrig 98,553 32%

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ "On Politics: Covering the US Congress, Governors, and the 2010 Election -". Retrieved 2010-08-29. [dead link]
  3. ^ a b Carney, Timothy (2011-01-11) The Great 2010 Cashout: Byron Dorgan & Bob Bennett to K Street, Washington Examiner
  4. ^ The Bipartisan Policy Center Welcomes Former Senator Byron Dorgan
  5. ^ RootsWeb
  6. ^ "Frontline, Money, Power & Wall Street, Part One (transcript)". Retrieved April 28, 2012. 
  7. ^ a b Congress Passes Wide-Ranging Bill Easing Bank Laws, Stephen Labaton, New York Times, November 5, 1999
  8. ^ "Biography | Byron L. Dorgan — United States Senator, North Dakota". Retrieved 2010-08-29. 
  9. ^ Lou Dobbs' website:
  10. ^ "U.S. Senate: Legislation & Records Home > Votes > Roll Call Vote". Retrieved 2010-08-29. 
  11. ^ C-Span:
  12. ^ Senate Resolution 437
  13. ^ Switzerland. "ICTSD • US Senate Passes Stimulus Bill with Tempered ‘Buy American’ Requirements". International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development. Retrieved 2010-08-29. 
  14. ^ "NewsBack.aspx". North Dakota Republican Party. Retrieved 2010-08-29. 
  15. ^
  16. ^ Press Release | Byron L. Dorgan — United States Senator, North Dakota
  17. ^ Democrat Returning Donations From Abramoff's Tribal Clients
  18. ^ "Election Statistics". Office of the Clerk of the House of Representatives. Retrieved 2007-08-08. 

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Edwin Sjaasstad
Tax Commissioner of North Dakota
Succeeded by
Kent Conrad
United States House of Representatives
Preceded by
Mark Andrews
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from North Dakota's At-large congressional district

Succeeded by
Earl Pomeroy
Party political offices
Preceded by
Kent Conrad
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from North Dakota
(Class 3)

1992, 1998, 2004
Succeeded by
Tracy Potter
Preceded by
Harry Reid
Chairman of the Senate Democratic Policy Committee
Succeeded by
Chuck Schumer
United States Senate
Preceded by
Kent Conrad
U.S. Senator (Class 3) from North Dakota
Served alongside: Kent Conrad
Succeeded by
John Hoeven
Preceded by
John McCain
Chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee
Succeeded by
Daniel Akaka