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Conrad observes 2011 Bismarck flood damage

Sen. Kent Conrad visits a home at Hoge Island north of Bismarck to examine the damage done to the homes in the area and the Missouri River bank caused by the summer's flood.

Retiring Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said he is undecided about his next career move and isn’t considering accepting a political post despite speculation.

Conrad said he hasn’t made any final decision yet on what his next move will be after serving more than 26 years in the Senate.

“I’m looking forward to this next period,” Conrad said. “The one thing I know I’m not going to be doing is lobbying.”

Before and after the November election, Conrad’s name was one of many that came up in discussion for a position in President Barack Obama’s administration. Conrad said that’s highly unlikely and that he hasn’t been contacted by administration officials about it. He said it’s merely Beltway media speculation in Washington that he would be a candidate for Obama’s Cabinet or some other administration post.

“If a president called, I think ... anyone would have to give serious consideration to whatever he’d propose,” Conrad said. “But it’s extremely unlikely that I would be called.”

Conrad said he most likely would be interested in accepting a teaching job at a college or university. Since he holds a bachelor’s degree in government and a master’s degree in business administration, he said, a teaching role would suit him well. He also would be interested in doing some public speaking, which he enjoyed during his time in public office.

Lucy Calautti, Conrad’s wife, said teaching has been near the top of his list of ideas he’s been considering. She said her husband is looking for something that doesn’t involve the rigors of being in politics, but would be stimulating and keep him busy.

“He mostly has an interest in that. He would be a great teacher,” Calautti said.

Calautti is a lobbyist for Major League Baseball, which she said she will continue after her husband’s retirement from the Senate.

Whatever Conrad decides to do, leaders of all political stripes in North Dakota say he’s left a lasting impact on the state and nation.

“Twenty-six intense years of public service to the state of North Dakota is really a great legacy and a great gift to the people of the state. I wish him well,” Gov. Jack Dalrymple said.

Stan Stein, chairman of the North Dakota Republican Party, also commended Conrad for his service.

“It’s not easy to be a public servant these days. I’d like to congratulate and thank Sen. Conrad for serving the state of North Dakota. I think he did the best he could over the years to serve the people of North Dakota,” Stein said.

Retired Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., praised his friend of nearly 40 years.

“I think he’s been an outstanding senator for North Dakota. He works very hard and is very smart,” Dorgan said.

Dorgan said while Conrad’s departure from Congress officially ends the years of service the two of them and former Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., gave to the state, it’s not the end of an era. He said Conrad’s newly-elected successor, Heidi Heitkamp, is herself a strong replacement and highly capable of crafting her own legacy.

“It closes one chapter and another chapter opens,” Dorgan said. “I think Heidi’s election opens a new chapter in North Dakota.”

‘Never-say-die’

Pomeroy said although Conrad is retiring, that won’t stop him from working on legislative matters important to him up until his final day in office. When Conrad announced he was retiring in January 2011, he said his primary focus the rest of his term would be on addressing the national deficit.

“Conrad is a never-say-die type of legislator,” Pomeroy said. “He always keeps trying. Once in a while, the work produces a breakthrough opportunity.”

Mark Jendrysik, a political science professor at the University of North Dakota, said the state’s congressional delegation will feel the impact of Conrad’s departure. With Conrad’s 26 years’ experience gone, North Dakota’s senior delegate will now be Republican Sen. John Hoeven, who was elected in 2010. Heitkamp and Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer will both be freshmen.

Jendrysik said with little congressional seniority, North Dakotans will have to adjust their expectations of their delegation a bit. He said the clout of what was a veteran delegation is, for the time being, fairly diminished.

“Politics is a slow process. You’re not going to just jump in there and make a big splash,” Jendrysik said. “You’re not going to be able to call on something and get what you want right away like before (and) I think a lot of the federal money that flowed to the state will (also) slow down now.”

Rania Batrice, North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party spokeswoman, praised Conrad’s service.

“We are proud to have called Kent Conrad our senator for so many years. Senator Conrad leaves behind a legacy of achievement, success, and consistently putting the people of North Dakota first,” Batrice said.

Batrice added that Conrad was able to achieve an extremely high level of success for being a senator from a small state. She said his expertise in budgetary matters was something that especially stood out and earned him the respect of his colleagues.

“That expertise, especially, will be missed,” Batrice said. “Senator Conrad was known for reaching across the aisle in everything he did. Senator Conrad believed in the process, and he believed that more could be done working together than against each other.”

Pomeroy said whatever Conrad decides to do next, he’s sure he’ll work hard to do a great job. He said Conrad leaves a legacy of being an effective legislator who was able to help and positively influence others.

“I became much better in my performance in the House trying to keep up with Sen. Conrad and Sen. Dorgan,” Pomeroy said. “They set the bar very high.”

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Reach Nick Smith at 250-8255 or 223-8482 or at nick.smith@bismarcktribune.com.

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