Kent Conrad to retire
This week, Joe Lieberman and Kent Conrad both announced that they wouldn't be seeking reelection to the Senate in 2012. For a variety of reasons, Lieberman's retirement attracted a lot more attention. But Conrad's is almost certainly more meaningful.
For one thing, Conrad comes from North Dakota. And North Dakota, unlike Connecticut, tilts red. John McCain won it by eight points in the 2008 election. With a presidential campaign nationalizing congressional races in 2012, it's a pretty safe bet that Conrad's replacement won't be a Democrat.
But Conrad also plays a more important role for Senate Democrats. He's either chaired or been ranking member on the Budget Committee since 2001. That's doesn't just mean that he knows a lot about the budget, but that he knows a lot about how to put a budget together -- and the budget process is governed by some pretty strange and abstruse rules.
Conrad isn't universally beloved in the party. Plenty of Democrats consider him too conservative for the post, and think he spends too much time peacocking over the deficit. He gets a black mark for being big on farm subsidies, thought that's sort of like saying he gets a black mark for being from North Dakota. He also has some odd ideas about the French health-care system.
But most Senate Democrats also say Conrad is among the smartest senators, and that he comes through when needed: He voted against both sets of the Bush tax cuts, worked with the Obama administration to include a reconciliation option for health-care reform, and has been a major defender of the stimulus proposals. And there is no one in the Senate who likes charts even half as much as Conrad does:
In 2001 the staff of the Senate rules Committee called Kent Conrad's office with a complaint — and a solution. The North Dakota Democrat was using more charts than all the other senators combined, so to free printing time for others, they gave him his own equipment. Last month, during his 37-minute opening statement in the battle over the budget, Conrad went through 37 charts. "We call him chart man," teases Republican Whip Mitch McConnell.
For that alone, he'll be missed.
Photo credit: By Alex Brandon/Associated Press
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