In Episode 001 of Origin Stories: A Podcast About Politics and People, longtime talk radio producer Brent Jabbour speaks with Former U.S. Senator Byron Dorgan – D-ND about how he went from growing up in a town of 300 people in North Dakota to become a member of Senate Leadership. Brent and the Senator discuss how tragedy shaped his career, their mutual admiration for Liberal talk show host Ed Schultz, the biggest highlights of what he did while in the Senate and the regret over his vote for the Iraq war. Dorgan also gives his insight to the state of politics today and the highly contested Senate election in his home state.

Transcript

Brent Jabbour:

This is Episode number One of Origin Stories: A Podcast About Politics and People. My name is Brent Jabbour. If you listened to Episode zero, the pilot of this particular podcast, you know that this is a podcast about discourse. About realizing that people are people and we can have that conversation.

I want to thank everyone for so much support on the first episode that I put up. And it all really worked out well because we were able to get up on all the aggregator sites like we had planned. Apple ITunes, the Google Play Store, Stitcher, Spreaker, you can get the podcast there now. So, I’m really happy that you can share this, the first episode of Origin Stories: A Podcast About Politics and People. I’m going to make the intro really really short, so we can get right to the substance.

Today, we speak with Byron Dorgan. He is a former Senator from the state of North Dakota, a former U.S. Senator, he was a member of Democratic leadership during the 90s and into the 2000s during the Obama administration. And, he’s always been a really really nice guy to me, he’s a genuine person from the middle of the country, so he can see things on both sides. And what we’ve done in this particular podcast is we relitigated the 2016 election just a little bit. We talked about what we can do moving forward. We talked about the highly contested Senate race coming up in November in North Dakota between Heidi Heitkamp and Kevin Cramer. And, we also talked about my good friend Ed Schultz.

The Reason I had put Byron Dorgan at the top of the list of people to speak with is that not only because I knew he had been there and done it. But, also because I knew he was always a good friend of my buddy Ed. And, he was always a great friend of the show, but they also had a personal relationship. So, we talked about him. I would say, we spent a good ten minutes talking about him and how tragedy in his personal life had directed him into the world of politics. And I just kind of related that back to the fact that this is why I am doing this because I was inspired following the passing of my good friend Ed. And so that is why we are here.

There was something I wanted to get to but I didn’t actually record it on the episode because I was a little nervous. And I will explain that nervousness right now. Well before I ever thought about doing politics or working in political talk radio I was a disk jockey on Y94 in Fargo, North Dakota. And, every year they would do the Care for Kids Radiothon which is a fundraiser for a children’s hospital. We would record all of these pieces and you would get these heartfelt pieces from families that were affected or helped at the children’s hospital in Fargo, North Dakota.

And you would get these actualities as well from famous people, newsmakers, people from the area. And, one time I was doing my shift and I got a call from the boss and said: “Hey Senator Byron Dorgan’s going to call in and send a little message to those who want to support the Care for Kids Radiothon.” And I remember being so nervous to speak with a sitting United States Senator and have him call and speak with me. I remember being very professional. Yes Sir, No Sir. Please say that, Please do that. Thank you so much. And of course, he was a gentleman, as he always was.

And I wanted to bring that up with him, but I mentioned it to him, but was still trying figure out the kinks in recording as we started recording that particular episode. Because that was the first one that we recorded. I just had a lot of memory with Byron Dorgan. He was very important in my head when I started this project. I’m not going to spend too much time wasting away here.

So let’s get to the Business. This is Episode one of Origin Stories: A Podcast About Politics and People with Byron Dorgan. I want to get in a quick thank you to my friend John Kneip and his Band NASAWives for providing the intro music here. And my friend Noel “Scotch” Anderson for providing all of the very cool imagery that you see on the website, on Facebook, and Twitter. I’ve received a lot of positive feedback on that.

Without further ado. Episode one. Byron Dorgan. Here we go!

Brent Jabbour:

Number one, I guess the first question I would have is how does somebody who is a senator from North Dakota become a member of Democratic Leadership? And you know, it is not the most progressive state in the country, and you were one of the top Senators going at it while you were in the Senate.

Senator Byron Dorgan – D-ND:

Well, part of that background was that I was a good friend of Thom Daschle. Thom was from South Dakota. We’ve been best friends for a long long time, both when we were in the U.S. House together; the U.S. Senate together. And, when Thom was elected Democratic Leader, he asked me to be part of his leadership team, and asked me to be the assistant Democratic Floor Leader, and then subsequently the chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee as well.

Brent:

Was that a big deal for you, being from the middle of the country? To be able to espouse, along with Senator Daschle as well… You guys had a good leadership body, that was not the California/New York leadership that you see now.

Senator Dorgan:

No, that’s True. Now what we see in the Congress. Just to give you a statistic, in the U.S. House, thirty percent of the Democratic Caucus come from just two states, New York and California. We’ve become far too much of a coastal Party. And, Good for New York and California.

There is an old campaign guru who used to always say “You pick cherries where cherries is.” What he meant by that, you know you go where the votes are and get em out. It is also the case that you have to plant more cherry trees, right. Good for California and New York, but we need to have a more robust effort in the heartland of the country.

Brent:

I think we’ve all talked about it, that is probably why Trump won. Because he was able to connect with those people. Now, North Dakota is probably not going to vote for a Democrat in many scenarios. Obviously, they have the Senators or Senator with Sen. Heitkamp, and you and Sen. Conrad were there. At one Time there were three Democrats representing the state of North Dakota.

Sen. Dorgan:

For eighteen straight years, in Fact.

Brent:

But What is it going to take for Democrats to start to understand those people?

Sen. Dorgan:

Well, I don’t think it is a case of Democrats not understanding people. I ran eleven statewide elections in North Dakota as a Democrat and was very successful. So, it is about retail politics. People want to know: Do they get to see you and know you? Do they trust you? Do they like you? And if they know, see, trust and like you, they don’t care what party you are from. They want to send somebody to Congress that they trust and they like.

So, I think what has happened in North Dakota and much of the heartland is there has not been a national Democratic message to say, here’s what our party’s about. Our Party is about helping family farmers have a bridge over difficult times. Our party’s about working men and women, who are working hard at their jobs and want job security and want opportunities for promotion and so on. Our party is about the people that know about seconds. Second shift, second job, second hand. That is who our party is about. I think our party doctrine has always been, at least for me, is when everybody does well, everybody does well. It’s like a wagon train, a wagon train in the old west used to only go as fast as the slowest wagon. So, you don’t leave people behind.

Brent:

I Think what you are saying, I completely agree with. However, the Democrats have left those people behind. Every voting block that you just discussed farmers, workers. Those people voted for Donald Trump because he spoke to them. That is where I’m saying we’re not messaging properly to Democrats. If that makes sense to you.

Sen. Dorgan:

Look, I don’t think Democratic presidential candidates who really should be carrying the message, they should have the message of what do we stand for as a Democratic Party. I don’t think they even campaign in much of the country. They just give up before the campaign starts and say well that’s a red state and we’re not going to a red state. People in large swaths of the heartland of America never hear much about the message from the megaphone that comes from a national Democratic candidate. Boy, I am a strong believer in saying if you want to run for President, you don’t give up any state. You run everywhere, and you push hard to get that message out. Because I still think people respond to that message no matter where they live.

Brent:

So I told you when we started this, it is going to be a little bit about you. So I want to talk about young Byron Dorgan. What was it like growing up in North Dakota?

Sen. Dorgan:

Well, I grew up in a town of 300 people. That was my first 18 years. It was a farm community. We raised some horses and cattle. My Dad ran a gas station in town. But we also raised horses and cattle. I graduated in a high school senior class of nine students. You’re never far away from the top or the bottom of those classes.

But, I knew everyone in town. Everyone knew me. It’s just a town of 300 people. It’s where I think I learned character. It’s where I developed my values system. It comes from my parents and the community I grew up in about what is right and what is wrong. How do you make judgments about that? I have always been enormously proud of growing up in a tiny little town in southwestern North Dakota.

Brent:

Do you think that helped you communicate better? Like you said everybody in this town of 300 people knew each other. So it sets you up in a way for being in Congress because there are four hundred and some odd Representatives, while one hundred Senators. But, it gives you that opportunity to communicate with everybody because you are used to that type of tight-knit community.

Sen. Dorgan:

Absolutely, In a town of three hundred people, you have a microcosm of America. You have a few people who would drink too much and get drunk. We had some old retired guys who would play pinochle at the bar all day. We had some people who were debating should we put pavement on our main street as opposed to having a gravel main street. And, while some people were pushing to do that, other people were pushing saying we didn’t want to spend the money.

It’s a microcosm of our country and the decisions our country makes. But it’s also an ability to understand how you get along with people because you have to get along. If you are in a town of three hundred people and you don’t get along with a handful of them, that’s pretty sad. So you learn to get along. I just learned a lot from that town.

Brent:

I think that makes sense too, in the way that you can’t ostracize anybody in a town that small because there are only 300 people, and where are they going to find anything else.

Sen. Dorgan:

And to me, when I look at that town, the progressives in that town were the ones saying alright let’s build, let’s progress, let’s change. And the others were saying, nope, and were against all of it. But, nonetheless, they come to some conclusion.

I know this a silly story, but it’s a lesson that I sit here and remember vividly. So, my job was to clean the barn on Saturday’s so, we had a pickup truck and shoveling manure into the pickup truck. We were fairly close to town, so they had a dump grounds in town. And, I was to take that manure to the dump grounds. My dad drove the gas truck, as well, for the service station. and, he saw that I had dumped the manure outside the fence of the dump grounds. And, he came back that night and said, “I saw you did not dump that inside the dump grounds, you dumped it outside the fence.” I said I did that because I thought I was going to get stuck, it had just rained, so I was afraid I would get stuck. He said, “Well, there is a right way to do things and a wrong way to do things, and you dumped it in the wrong place. You go out and you put it back on the pickup truck, and haul it in the dump grounds and dump it there.” So, the next day, I’m out there shoveling that manure for the second time, and I’m swearing and upset, but you know what it’s a lesson that I remember sitting here today. Do things the right way. No shortcuts.

Brent:

And the it’s better to do it once right than to do it twice.

Sen. Dorgan:

I remember that lesson. And I told my dad some decades later. You know what, I didn’t like the lesson, but I learned it really well, and have never forgotten it.

Brent:

Where did you to college again? I know you went to the University of Denver later for graduate school…

Sen. Dorgan:

I went to the University of North Dakota. It was 365 miles from regent to the University. I worked on cars. My dad had a gas station, so I had a hoist. I would put my car on the hoist and work on it. And I was a big fan of working on cars. And, I did everything to it. I had an old Ford, I put a Mercury grill on it, I cut out with a welder cut out the old grill, and put a mercury grill on it. I put Plymouth continental kit on it.

And then, ultimately I drove off the first time to go to college, and I was picked up for speeding on my first trip. And the highway patrolman took me back to his car and he is giving me the ticket. And he looked at my car, and he looked it over, and he said “son, what was that car before you started butchering it?” And I haven’t forgotten that either.

Brent:

You know this is another interesting thing we talk about with people who grew up on farms. When was the first time you drove a vehicle? Probably on the farm when you were a young teenager, right?

Sen. Dorgan:

Oh, eleven or twelve. Because we had a pickup truck. And, you know, when we are out on the pasture, hauling hay and stuff. I was supposed to be in that pickup truck, doing stuff. But, you just learn really early, I could barely see over the steering wheel.

Now, I wasn’t off a highway at age twelve. But, my dad always expected me to move the pick up truck just a bit. So, you’d get in, get the shift going and the clutch.

Brent:

You could drive the tractor down the highway…

Sen. Dorgan:

We had an old tractor, which we called a co-op tractor, which farmers would know. Somehow, it went much faster than any other tractor. I just remember being in that seat of that co-op tractor, driving down the road and going to beat the band.

Brent:

So, when you were in college at the University of North Dakota. What did you do in your free time? When you weren’t studying, probably working a little bit. What were you doing in your free time?

Sen. Dorgan:

Well, I worked… I did a lot of jobs when I was in College. I was a bank teller. I sold shoes at J.C. Penny’s. I had a lot of part-time jobs. So, that’s what I did. I was very interested in athletics. I loved basketball, football, all those things. I didn’t play varsity in college. I have always enjoyed athletics as well.

Brent:

What do you do now in your free time? You technically retired, but I’m sitting here in your office, it doesn’t quite look like you’ve retired.

Sen. Dorgan:

No, no, I haven’t retired. I’ve been teaching for some years at Georgetown University. I am on 4 boards of directors and boards of advisors on companies. Three of them in California, one in Chicago. I’m writing my fifth book right now, I just submitted the first manuscript to the publisher. I am a Senior Fellow at the bipartisan policy center. I’m doing a lot of things.

Brent:

It sounds like a lot of work. What are you doing to relax?

Sen. Dorgan:

Well, I like to work. But, I like to play tennis. I have played tennis all my life. I like to play golf. I like to travel, I just came back from France. I was on a cycling trip. I rode probably about 180 miles in southern France with a bunch of people on a bicycle. So I do a lot of things, and I enjoy it all.

Brent:

There are a lot of successful businessmen, I don’t know why, when you said, “I’m teaching at Georgetown.” In my brain, I’m thinking a kid from a town of 300 people in North Dakota is teaching at one of the most prestigious universities in the country, maybe in the world. I mean, I know they come from all over. But, I lived in North Dakota for about 10 years, and I noticed you would look people up, and realize, this guy was born in Bismarck, ND.

It’s just a strange place because a lot of people look at it as a backwoods state. It’s the middle of the country, nobody cares. There are a lot of plains, a lot of farms, it’s cold, is that what gives people…

Sen. Dorgan:

I Don’t know. It’s really interesting. My career was very unusual politically. I didn’t plan on being a politician. I have a masters degree in business, an MBA degree. I thought I would be a businessman all my life. and things happen.

So at age 26, I was appointed to fill a vacancy by Governor Guy in a constitutional office, because someone who had just been elected died. And, he chose me. I was as surprised as anybody in North Dakota at age 26.

Brent:

What were you doing then? That was the North Dakota tax commissioner? That was the position you were in?

Sen. Dorgan:

That was born of tragedy. The origin of other people’s lives can be profoundly affected by tragedy.

So, I was in the Aerospace industry, had gone to work in the aerospace industry directly out of graduate school in Colorado. And I came back to a funeral, my grandfather’s funeral. And somebody told me you should talk to this guy who just was elected to office in North Dakota. His name was Ed Sjaastad. He had come from a town called Tagus, North Dakota, 80 people. And graduated from Harvard Law School. And, he had just won election to State Tax Commissioner. And, I said no… I’m not… and they said, no he wants to hire a young MBA, go talk to him. I said, but I’m in Denver, I’m in the aerospace industry. But, I did go up and talk to him, and I was so inspired by him. I just thought, man, what an inspiring guy, 36-37 years old.

So I decided to go back to North Dakota and work for him. And I did, I worked there a year and a half. And, he was a mentor and a friend, and a boss. And, I walked into his office one morning at 8 o’clock in the morning and found him dead. He had taken his own life. I can’t even begin to describe the drama and the trauma. I was 26 years old, and I had lost a friend and mentor. What a great, great tragedy because he was such an extraordinary human.

And, so six weeks later. The governor called me down to his office and said I want to appoint you to his unexpired term. I mean, I was the most surprised guy in the world. And so, from that, I ran for office and ran for office again. Ran for the House, and again, and again, and again, six times. Then ran for the Senate again and again and again. And you know, I had a career for many many many decades in North Dakota serving in public office. I was enormously grateful for the opportunity. It was a great privilege.

And yet, I came to the end, and then the question is, the next choice is seven years. Run for election this year, win and serve six more. And those seven-year choices become much more difficult because I wanted to do more things. I wanted to, having been in Congress for 30 years, and the Senate for 18 years. I wanted to write more books, which I’m doing, I have written 3 since I left. And, I wanted to teach, I’m teaching at Georgetown University. I wanted to serve on some boards, and so on…

So that is kind of a synopsis of how all of this happened. It’s like every other piece of the decision tree of life. It’s always binary, It’s always yes or no. And when you say yes or no, it profoundly changes the branch on that decision tree. And, I have just been very fortunate and have loved everything I’ve done.

Brent:

And, you know, your story of tragedy, of your friend. That is kind of where I am right now. That’s why we are recording this and speaking with you. Ed Schultz was my friend. He was my mentor. He was a great boss. He took me all over. And, when he unexpectedly passed. A lot, of people, asked me, especially over that time, who is going to carry that mantle. And, I don’t think by any means I’m going to carry that mantle. I don’t have any intention to be the next Ed Schultz. But I thought I would be doing a disservice if I didn’t talk to a lot of people, you were close friends with him, talk to a lot of those people. I thought also, It’s something possibly I wanted to do anyway. Which is get the background on people, talk about the issues that affect people, and how things are going. And, I never wanted to step on his toes. Not that I ever think that he would have ever been unhappy with me. He would always be very happy that I want to grow. But I said at the time you know what, that’s Ed’s thing right now, and we let him do that. And, when this unexpected turn happened, I said, you know what, maybe it’s my time to do a little bit of something. And try to do something that would make him proud.

So, I thoroughly understand what you were saying there.

Sen. Dorgan:

Look, all of us suffer loss. It’s part of our lives, it just is. And no matter what you’re doing or where you are, the question is, not whether you will suffer loss, it’s how you will get through it.

I remember, my mother was killed in a manslaughter incident in 1986 driving on the streets of Bismarck North Dakota. Coming home from a hospital visit. My daughter died during heart surgery when I was in the Senate. It is unbelievably hard to get through a loss, and some people never do, and some people can.

My Mother, and my daughter, and my friend Ed Sjaastad, the fact is they are with me. Their part of my memory bank. I call on them a lot. The key for all of us to understand, life is about success, and it’s about failure, it’s about building and creating, and losing sometimes. It’s always picking yourself up and brushing your hat off and moving straight on ahead and moving forward.

Ed Schultz, just to end this part of the discussion, Ed Schultz was such a big personality. And, generous, he would give you the shirt off his back if you needed it. He was a remarkable person. But, because he was such a big personality and a force of personality, all of us who were friends of Ed’s, were stunned by the loss of Ed in our lives. He was quite a remarkable guy.

Brent:

I know, one of the biggest things that people who were close to him say, is we are going to miss that phone call of him saying. “What’s going on?” And he didn’t always mean that as a what’s going on with you. But, he did care, but he also wanted to know what you thought about what was going on. And, that, I always thought, he always cared what everyone else thought. He may not agree with you. But he wanted to absorb that information and have that conversation.

Sen. Dorgan:

The hallmark of Ed was confidence. He was unbelievably confident, and you could see it, and smell it, and feel it. I’ve seen Ed come into rooms…

Just a quick story. Senator (Debbie) Stabenow and I were going to invite radio talkers from around the country who were, progressive or Democratic talkers to come into our nation’s capital and have a discussion together. It never happened before. So Debbie and I brought them in. There were about twenty or thirty of them in this room in the Hart Building. And, I swear to you, Ed took over the room instantly. He gave a little presentation and wow. And there was an agent there and of course, that agent signed Ed to a radio a contract. And that set Ed on a remarkable career, on national radio and national television. It’s a remarkable thing.

I think it all stems from unbelievable confidence. It’s about being a football quarterback, it’s about all the things that made Ed Schultz. He was quite remarkable.

Brent:

I think, even when I sent you an email asking if you would do this. I discussed the confidence he instilled in me. There was no question. I don’t think I ever heard him say he didn’t know if this is right or not. Not only did he always think he was right, but he also made relatively good decisions. You may disagree with his takes on certain things, but he always did it from the right place. From a place where he could explain to you, this is why I think this way. It wasn’t just a blanket statement because I don’t feel like arguing it. It was a statement and this is why I feel that way. I always appreciated that so much.

Alright, on to books. You have written a couple of books. There was one called Take this Job and Ship it correct? But you also wrote Gridlock and Blowout, which are thrillers, if you will. I think that is the correct description. Why fiction, why did you think that was a thing to get into?

Sen. Dorgan:

The interesting thing is, I had done two books about economic issues. And, the publisher, a New York publisher, and I had an agent in New York. And, my agent called me and said, how would you like to do a couple of novels? And I said. You know, I’ve not written fiction before. And he said, How about co-authoring a couple of them? I said I’d be interested in talking about it. So we talked about it, and I decided, you know what, it’s something I’ve not done, it’s something I’d like to do. So, I did it. And it was very interesting. I may do it again, we’ll see.

The book I’m writing now, it’s my fifth book, is a book that is a true story. But, who knows, I may go back to fiction. You know, if you wrote fiction, and wrote what was going on today in our country and in Washington D.C. people would say that’s way beyond fiction.

Brent:

And I was going to say. I had wondered about those books. You coming from a policy perspective, and those are about oil and ecological issues. And I thought, maybe, you got involved because this is a way to get those messages out about these important issues that will give people an entertaining read without me beating them over the head with it. Without me feeling like I’m lecturing you about…

Sen. Dorgan:

Yeah, that is some of it. Absolutely. In fact, I’ll tell you the ideas for both books.

The idea for the first book, the first novel, came from something I read in the Wall Street Journal. And it was a news story, a small one, about five years before, and it said there is a persistent rumor that either the Chinese or the Russians had put a virus in the American electric grid system that would allow them to turn off the electric grid if we were in a war. The news story just kept talking about persistent rumors, but nobody every verified it. And I just thought, that would be fascinating to write about. How would a foreign power turn off the electric grid system and cause chaos in our country?

The other one was a piece I read about, and I had met a guy who did this, Craig Venter, who is a remarkable genius. He did part of the Human Genome project with Dr. Francis Collins and so on. But, he contracted with Exxon and they were working to put microbes in a coal seam under the earth, microbes are bacteria, have them develop a language for bacteria that would say to them, eat your way through the coal seam and leave methane in its wake. So you would actually turn coal into methane underground. And I thought that’s fascinating. So that became the idea for the second novel.

Brent:

I think you are a much better novelist than you think. Because I think that’s pretty much how alot of these guys come up with their ideas. I’ve seen Stephen King wrote 10 o’clock people, or something of that nature is one of his novels. He basically, wrote it because he would drive down the street, and he would see outside of this office everyday smoking cigarettes. And it was all of them at the same time smoking cigarettes, and he came up with this idea of who are these people? So that is the way good fiction works, kind of a what if. I think you are doing a heck of a job there.

Sen. Dorgan:

On the book about a virus shutting down the electric grid. I have a Russian agent that has the virus that he’s stolen, an Iranian secret agent purchase it from him. And then the Iranian secret agents, they hire a drug-addled hacker living in a commune in Amsterdam to begin shutting down the electric grid in America. It’s kind of a fanciful story, but it was a fun one to write.

Brent:

Do you read a lot of, I guess that is the Tom Clancy style novel, is that something you are interested in?

Sen. Dorgan:

I don’t read as much fiction. I read a lot of non-fiction, but I don’t read as much fiction.

Brent:

When you read non-fiction are you reading more biographies?

Sen. Dorgan:

Yeah, I just finished a book called “Bad Blood in Silicon Valley,” about the Theranos Fraud. I mean those are the things I read a lot about.

Brent:

When you were in your time in public service, or in your professional life, we will use professional outside of personal. What are you most proud of that you have done?

Sen. Dorgan:

There is a lot. Just a lot of things. In terms of policy, in fact, I’m still working on it today. I helped, I was one of the authors of the Renewable Fuel Standard. We keep putting these steel straws into the planet earth and sucking oil out, which is good, and natural gas and such, and I’m for that. I supported oil and gas development in our state.

But, we need to do more than that. Because we can produce fuels from renewable fuels. Which diversify our fuel source. And it also means less carbon into the airshed. So I wrote the Renewable Fuel Standard, the RFS. And we’ve built a huge ethanol industry and a huge biodiesel industry as a result of it. I helped prompt the start of a wind energy revolution in the country. So, I’ve done a lot of things I’m really proud of.

And some of it is things just dealing with individuals. I got a letter last week from a woman in Devils Lake, ND. And she said, Senator Dorgan, she said, about fifteen years ago, you got involved for my father who had a form of cancer and needed a certain type of treatment, and he was turned down for reimbursement for that treatment. And you got involved with the V.A. and others and got him the treatment he needed. She said, he just died last week, but we got 15 years of life with my dad thanks to you.

And, I thought, what a remarkable woman to send me a note 15 years later to say thanks for what you did for my dad. Those are the things that I really care much about. The things you can do for people that make a difference in their lives.

Brent:

As far as policy goes, is there one thing you wish you could take back?

Sen. Dorgan:

Oh sure. The vote authorizing George W. Bush to take military action in the Gulf war. Now, the vote required him to do a number of other things, which he did not do. But, when Colin Powell and Dick Cheney and Condoleezza Rice and others were giving us top-secret briefings, day after day after day, they made the case they knew there biological weapons and nuclear weapons and so on that threaten our country. And it turns out they were wrong. And it also turns out, now, that I know, I know for a fact that some of what was told to us in top-secret briefings misrepresented the facts, and some of it deliberately misrepresented the facts. And was told to us by people at the highest levels of government in a way that wasn’t just not accurate, but was false. And demonstrably false. And they knew at the time it was demonstrably false.

And that really bothers me. Because no one ever really did the investigation that should have been done following that.

Brent:

Yeah, I was going to bring that up. I feel like many in the far left community had always been saying arrest Bush and Cheney, they’re war criminals. And, I know that is not a stretch, some could make that case. But the fact is, is that what you just told me there, that in top-secret briefings, people knowingly misrepresented the facts. I mean there is no recourse, none of those people were punished for that. I mean, with the exception of Colin Powell having to eventually admit, that he lied. Or he says that he was…

Sen. Dorgan:

He says he was duped. But he was the gold standard as far as I’m concerned. I mean I think Colin Powell is widely respected. And, he went on live television at the United Nations and said, look here is what the Iraqis have. And mobile chemical weapons laboratories, he went right through the whole thing.

Turns out, it was all a crock because they were using testimony by a known fabricator from Iraq, who used to drive a taxi cab in Bagdad. He was in the custody of the Germans and the Germans told the Americans “we think he is a fabricator.” And yet, they used a substantial amount of that, not just that but more as well, for Colin Powel’s presentation. And, it was a devastating thing to do for this country because we got involved in a very long war that cost a lot of lives. It’s a war in my judgment that we shouldn’t have fought.

Brent:

Kent Conrad voted against the war in Iraq, correct?

Sen. Dorgan:

He Did.

Brent:

Did you guys have conversations about that? I mean, as far as while that vote was coming up… He’s a colleague of yours for many many years.

Sen. Dorgan:

Yea, We seldom ever split our vote on those kinds of things. We split our vote on a Supreme Court nominee at one point, I think on Alito. We split our vote on that as well. The Authorization for the President to use force.

And, I just came out in a different place. Had I known, what I know now, I never ever would have voted for it. But, you know, it’s too late to correct all those things. I regret casting that vote, I believed in the presentations that were made to members of Congress by people who had very solid reputations, who turned out to not have such solid reputations.

Brent:

Do you think it’s hard for people, lawmakers especially, to admit they were wrong?

Sen. Dorgan:

Sure… Yeah… And the reason for that is, I think there is a punishment by the voters from time to time, to take a look at somebody, and let’s say the person running against this person that changed their mind, says well this is a flip-flopper. They’re a weather vein. They change their mind based on how the wind is blowing. And I think people buy that argument so they don’t want members of Congress to change their mind. On the other hand, it’s really important if members of Congress see new information or have a change of heart, they ought to change their mind. Because I think, the voters want to look at somebody and say, that’s somebody I think is authentic. They care about things, researches things, and come out with the right approach.

Brent:

I was recently having a conversation with a friend of mine about (Senator) Heidi Heitkamp and (Congressman) Kevin Cramer running in the state of North Dakota. Kevin has always been polite to me, Heidi, not so much, but that’s neither here nor there. But I had to draw the distinction of the play Hamilton, where I said, I’m not a North Dakota voter anymore, so I can’t make this decision. But given the choice between Heidi and Kevin going to the Senate, I would almost give Kevin Cramer that vote. And I will tell you why. I disagree with him wholeheartedly on almost everything, but I feel like he stands for something. He stands for things, and I feel like Heidi is in a position where she is just trying to make voters happy in North Dakota, and so she is kind of everywhere. And she’s not helping the Democratic voters at all, and she is not helping her constituents either.

I’m not asking you to bag on Heidi, by any means…

Sen. Dorgan:

Let me tell ya. Look, Heidi is in a state, that is more conservative than it was. And, she’s trying to navigate through some difficult circumstances. You can’t keep everybody happy. And, if you try, you fail. And she is trying to demonstrate and has done so effectively, to North Dakotans that she is independent. She’s not going to just swallow the party line every time they say something. That is contrary to what Kevin Cramer does.

Look, Kevin Cramer is fine as far as I’m concerned, but I would never vote for someone who says well whatever Trump wants that fine with me. Especially at a time when Pres. Trump is slapping on lots of tariffs ad-hoc, ad hominem and injuring the price of hogs and soybean and corn. And Kramer says, well that’s okay. Whatever Trump wants Trump gets. I would never be in a situation to subscribe to that. I respect your views and I think both people are people of good character, but they believe very different things.

So, when I grew up in North Dakota, you would sooner cut off your hand at the wrist then talk about religion. I mean, I went to the little Lutheran Church in Region North Dakota and religion was private. You didn’t go talk about your religion, but you went to church and prayed and you went every Sunday because you should, and wanted to. These days, we have people wearing religion on their sleeves. Kevin is one of them and boy, I don’t know. I worry about a lot of people that wear religion on their sleeves and use it politically and tell other people what to do with respect to their religious beliefs and so on.

Brent:

Well, I have this big theory on politics. That, it’s basically sport now. The reason people want to use religion, it because its the easiest argument to have with somebody, that “God would be unhappy if you did this.” How am I going to argue with that? How do I make an argument against that? Obviously, there are social issues at face, but its almost become just an Evangelical Christians, they’re Republicans who don’t want to go against God. God is a Republican, clearly, in their mind and I think that’s just become part of this larger game that people are playing. There is very little reality in the political spectrum I feel like anymore, especially in the Federal system.

Sen. Dorgan:

Yeah, but you know, look, I get these things. So a president has his attorney pay $130,000 to a porn star to shut her up, right? Or a Pres. says, I’m gonna separate thousands of kids at the border from their parents and we won’t even keep track of where they all came from and so it’s going to be hard putting them all back. That’s not Christian. These aren’t Christian values you’re talking about right? So, that’s what bothers me. We’re kind of in uncharted territory when anybody uses religion as some sort of a test in terms of their own personal view of religion. So, I don’t know. The key, I think, politically, for Heidi, and I’m a fan of Heidi’s. I think she’s authentic. I like her a lot, and I think she is a good Senator and will make a good Senator the next term as well. But, the key is, you can’t please everybody, but you chart a course that you think is best for our state and our country and you take the President on when you should. You support him when you think it’s reasonable. I understand what Heidi’s doing. Support it. Think she’s the right choice. So we’ll see. The fact is, it’s going to be a contested election and probably pretty close. In the end, I think Heidi will win.

Brent:

Democrats keep talking about this blue wave in 2018, now that we’re kind of on the election here. Is that a reality, because I don’t see it. Number one, I’ll tell you why we have no blue wave. Gerrymandering in the house is out of control Democrats are going to need a big, big push to be able to win in the house and we don’t have enough seats in the Senate available to us. I think eight Republicans are up? Eight or ten. I can’t think off hand.

Sen. Dorgan:

I think it’s eight.

Brent:

So, you’re looking at the this and there are Democrats out there, I mean, I get the e-mails every day from all kinds of candidates who are basically telling Democrats that they’re ready to take this back. Do we have to be realistic here or do the good vibes help to push this forward?

Sen. Dorgan:

My thought is that there’s going to be, I don’t know whether it’s a blue wave, but there’s going to be a wave of people who show up at the polls. Who are pretty incented to try to send Donald Trump a message. The old Claude Pepper, the oldest man in the U.S. House when I showed up there. He used to say, “The Constitution gives the American people this miracle. Every second year, they get to grab the steering wheel. Every second year, the American people grab that steering wheel and decide which way do they steer America. I think given what’s happening in the White House more recently, the last couple years, I think they want to do that.

Now, I think they wanted to do it with Trump as well. I mean, i think Trump’s message was pretty clear. He said things that were disqualifying to me. I mean, he’d stand up on the trail and say, “I support torture.” Well, somebody supports torture and my judgment should not be elected? He said, “I think we should consider allowing Japan and the Saudies and South Korea to have nuclear weapons.” In my judgment, that just disqualifies him because he doesn’t think through these things.

Having said all that, the American people elected him and he did get three-million fewer votes than Hillary, but they elected him and they did it because I think they looked at him and went, “you know what? If he goes to the White House, he’s going to break some glass and kick some you-know-what and I kind of want to see someone kick them all around.” So, I think that’s why people voted for him.

Brent:

I have this theory too. Which is that possibly the country will never be the same after this. I don’t mean that in a good way, but I also don’t necessarily mean it in a bad way. The way I see it, Trump is doing well enough, and he’s appeased his base enough; the people who voted for him. Whether steel and aluminum tariffs, whether they actually do good, it will end up costing us more money in the future. It will end up doing all these issues. That doesn’t matter to steelworkers. That doesn’t matter to autoworkers. Doesn’t matter to them, because all they see is that the President did something for “us.” Whether it works or not, they did something for “us:” And they probably won’t see a problem in their pocketbook and so I think he’s appeased that portion of the base.

What I’m concerned about, a little bit, is that they’re going to see that. Things don’t go too bad for Republicans in 2018. he could get re-elected in 2020, despite indefinite detention of children and despite all the other things he has done. Despite the fact that we’re looking at how many different scandals he’s been involved in and yet, in 1994, was it? We thought that was the biggest thing that could ever happen to a President of the United States and here we’re ignoring the fact that, like you said, he paid off a porn star. Actually, looks like paid off two porn stars.

Sen. Dorgan:

Probably three.

I don’t know. Look, you might be right. My own view is that I think he probably won’t be re-elected. I want him to keep us out of wars between now and then. I want him to stop doing stuff that would open up ANWR to oil development in Alaska. Stop changing the rules so that you can dump as much methane into the air as you like; and that people won’t be able to drink clean water and breathe clean… I’d like him to be somewhat thoughtful about the policies we need. I understand that we have too many regulations; let’s get rid of some that aren’t worthy, but let’s keep some that are really important for human health and other things.

So, we’ll see. I think it is not enough for Democrats just to be against Trump. Democrats need to have a vision and a set of values about who they’re fighting for and what they want America to be in the future; with respect to people who need jobs and people who need health care and so-on. So, we need to do much more than we’re now doing as Democrats.

Brent:

I think you’re absolutely right on that, and I think one of the things that; not… I think that social issues are super important. I think they are a thing that affects so many people. However, I also feel like, the majority of Americans are already on board with all of that, and I feel like that’s where the Democrats also failed in 2016. They spent a lot of time kind of pushing these social issues, like transgender bathrooms, and all those things. While they were important, no doubt, these people should not be discriminated against; that is not an issue that ninety-nine percent of Americans care about. I think that’s certainly a problem.

Number one; they didn’t talk to working-class Americans. Hillary Clinton, again, I’m not going to “bag” on anybody, but I will say this, is the most qualified candidate to probably ever run for the office. Also, at the same time, not a likable person to the American people. I don’t want to say it. I know there’s a lot of connotation there. I voted for her. I think, she would have made a great President, but this is a personality contest now and we need to understand that.

Sen. Dorgan:

I don’t disagree with that at all. I think she was not the best candidate in a lot of ways. However she was speaking it wasn’t to the people; the guts of people. You know, that message somewhere between the brain and the belly that gives people a sense of, “this is something I care about. This is someone that’s going to do something about it.” So, I agree with that. I think she… I admire her. I think she’s unbelievably talented. Would have made a good President if the Republicans would have allowed her to be a good President, but the fact is, she didn’t’ do a … very good… you know, it’s almost malpractice not campaign in Wisconsin as a Democrat.

Brent:

And in Michigan. You’re missing out on… there’s no situation…

Sen. Dorgan:

But, having said all that, she still won the election by three-and-a-half million votes, but lost the electoral college. So, she’s not President.

Brent:

We can have that argument. I know a lot of people want to always make that, she won by three-million more votes. That’s fine…

Sen. Dorgan:

… but if she lost the Presidency…

Brent:

The electoral college; number one, when Bush won in… 2000…

Sen. Dorgan:

… 2000.


Brent:

Yeah. We knew that that was an issue. Nobody did anything. Nobody tried to… I don’t remember any Senators pushing for a Constitutional amendment to fix the electoral college. We knew that was an issue and we allowed it, because we said, ” it probably won’t be a problem later. We’ll be fine.”

Sen. Dorgan:

It wouldn’t have needed to be an issue if Al Gore had selected Bob Graham as his running mate in Florida. He would have won Florida easily. Bob was wildly popular in Florida and there wouldn’t have been a recount in Florida. So that’s Al Gore’s fault.

Brent:

We can also have the conversation about Tim Kain being chosen as… Tim, great guy. Doesn’t move the dial at all.

Sen. Dorgan:

I like him a lot, and he played the role the campaign gave him, so that wasn’t… but I understand your point.

Brent:

I’m just… in my adult life, it’s mostly been Obama-Biden. Two of the most charismatic people to ever be in an administration; and I look at it and I say, Democrats did not realize that they were the ones that won that re-election because of their personality. I mean, their policy was great, but they won it because of their personalities, because of their charisma, because they would speak directly to your heart; and you felt it. I’ve been in the room while they both of them spoke and I was inspired. We don’t do that and that’s the problem.

You say you don’t think Donald Trump would be re-elected in 2020. Well, we’re getting close to 2018’s election. Who is the leader of the Democratic party right now? Who is the person who you’re going to want on that ticket? I mean, it might be Joe Biden, but I think it might be a little late for Joe.

Sen. Dorgan:

Well, there will be a lot of people running. Gil Garcetti, mayor of Los Angeles, or Delaney the Congress. I bet there will be twelve or fourteen people announced for President. We’ll see. I agree with you, I think that there’s some political cholesterol blocking the emergence of new leaders, because many of the people, Bernie, and so many others, are in their late seventies in the Democratic leadership; but I think we will see new leaders emerge in the Democratic party.

Look, what we need in both political parties… I would like to see strong new leaders in the Republican party come out and eclipse the Trump doctrine of Republicanism, and I’d like to see strong leaders in the Democratic party develop a real agenda for the country. Then, let’s see where we go. Given America the choice of what kind of a country they want. Where do they want to head? What do they want to strengthen in this country’s future?

Brent:

You know what I miss? You know what person I miss? This is going to sound weird too. John Boehner. That guy, I felt like he would have stood up to Trump when Trump needed to be stood up to.

Sen. Dorgan:

Sure we would have, but they threw him out. I mean, John, I mean he quit, but he quit because he couldn’t govern his caucus and his caucus wouldn’t… Look, I like John a lot. John and his wife and in the old days, my wife and I, we met John and his wife and knew them and liked them. In the old days, people met each other and you had relationships and so on. John Boehner was a good speaker, honestly, but he finally just said, I quit, because I can’t get done what I need to get done through this caucus.

Brent:

I think that’s probably what Paul Ryan is facing right now. I don’t think Paul Ryan is a man of as much integrity.

Sen. Dorgan:

He doesn’t have the strength that John Boehner had. Not at all.

Brent:

No. I also think that Paul Ryan has political aspirations and that’s why he’s doing this, in my head, because either he’s eventually going to run for Governor of Wisconsin and then President, or he’s just going to try to go straight for President once Trump’s done. So, he’s going to spend some time with his family. Help raise his kids for a couple of years and then he’s going to try and go for higher office. That’s my personal opinion, but I think you’re right that he doesn’t have the strength to control that caucus and he doesn’t have that…

Sen. Dorgan:

Well, the fact was that he had a very strong reputation early on. That reputation has been injured a fair amount, I think, and we’ll see what his future is; but I think what’s happened is that while he’s pushed back a little bit, but the phrase of choice these days is to say, “well, I wouldn’t have said it that way,” right? That’s not enough. I think he’s injured his reputation a bit, but he’s a young man and we’ll see what happens to his future.

Brent:

How often do you speak with President Clinton?

Sen. Dorgan:

Um, maybe two/three months ago. He and I talked.

Brent:

What’s is like being friends with a President? Any President really?

Sen. Dorgan:

Well, we used to golf together. There’s a picture of him and I golfing on the wall. He’s a really interesting, smart… has a really facile mind. He’s an interesting guy. You would, I think most anybody would like to spend some time with him talking.

It’s kind of like if you like economics, and I like economics, and I’ve had an opportunity to spend time visiting with Warren Buffett. In fact, on the way in this morning to work, I was thinking about this, because Warren had sent me an e-mail a while back and he said, ‘If you get to Omaha anytime soon, call me and we’ll have a hamburger.’ I was thinking on the way in, I should just go to Omaha and have a hamburger because I haven’t seen him for a long while, although we’ve been exchanging some emails.

If you want to know about the economy, you want to talk to Warren Buffett, right? If you want to know about politics; pretty good to talk to Bill Clinton. He’s an encyclopedia.

Brent:

This is a hard turn. Are we beyond the time of the bipartisanship? Are we ever going to be in a position where real bipartisanship exists anymore?

Sen. Dorgan:

It depends on… if voters can find a way to reward good behavior and punish bad behavior. I think bipartisanship will come back, but we have a circumstance these days where talk radio and cable television admonish those who come to the center to reach a compromise, because the question is, ‘do you stand for your values or principles or do you compromise’? If you compromise, it’s a dirty word. Compromise is what brings people together from different parties with different views. At the moment, there is not much compromise on anything. It may happen. It may change and I think the voters will have a lot to say about whether it changes.

Brent:

I’ve had this theory post Tea Party, I know that things weren’t great even during the Clinton Administration. Speaker Gingrich was very standoffish, and there were some issues there. However, they were able, you guys were able to come to a lot of agreement and do things, and it was able to work. But, I’ve had this theory that following theTea Party movement in 2010. I feel like the Republicans, especially at the time, they embraced this movement because they knew they could get the votes. Which they do a lot. They embrace movements so they the voters. But what they didn’t realize is that emboldened those people and then got a lot of Tea Partiers elected. And we got that far-right elected, the Louis Gohmert’s of the world. That started to happen because they emboldened those voters. They didn’t really fell like they were going to give them the voice that they said they were going to, and then they became members of Congress and started doing that.

Sen. Dorgan:

Yeah, I think that’s right. It’s also the case, from my perspective, that Democrats are by and large a party that believes in governance. Believes in the possibilities and the potential of good government. The Republicans are more often than not are a party that has been attacking government, saying government is the problem. You remember Ronald Reagan’s speech. Government’s not the solution, it’s the problem. The fact is, Government is really us. we create it, and we determine who runs it and so on.

So, after a couple, two or three decades, of really denigrating government over and over and over again, it’s not surprising that people have less confidence in and less affection for their institutions, including government. It’s not just government, but government is one of those institutions that has been under attack for a long while. And I think our government is really important. In self-government.

You know, a country, the most successful democracy in the history of humankind exists in this country. It’s not the only democracy. But it’s the longest surviving representative government in world history. It’s really important that we nurture that, and take care of it. Because there’s no ultimate guarantee that the destiny of our country is to always be what we are. A country, that has substantial liberty and freedom and opportunity, it requires us, as Americans, to take care of and nurture this process called democracy.

Brent:

Not to be too dire here, but the worry I have is that we’re not going to, and we are going to let it fail…

Sen. Dorgan:

Maybe. Maybe, but sometimes you just avoid an accident at the last minute when you’re on the road. You know what I mean? So, clearly, we careen, and we have before, we careen off into different directions and it looks pretty problematic. And then we find a way to create a correction, or a charismatic leader, maybe Republican or Democrat. Maybe a Franklin Delano Roosevelt, or a Teddy Roosevelt, you know, whomever, and brings us back to where we need to be.

Brent:

I thoroughly agree that there needs to be someone, who will bring us back. And, on the government point, I’ve had people who said “How can you support the government, when you see so much waste?” I say, “I don’t think that it works great right now, but the idea of government is great. The Idea of these things. A collective society, doing things for other people. That works for me.”

I love it, I love the idea of it. Is there a lot of waste? Sure there is. But nothing is perfect.

Sen. Dorgan:

Isn’t it interesting that when citizens face the greatest difficulties. I’ll give you an example. When Houston’s under siege in a hurricane that is coming dead center to Houston. And it’s gonna cause tens of thousands of people to flee their homes. And, when that passes through. Guess what is the most important element in the recovery? It is the combination of a government saying to them “you’re not alone, we’re here to help.” And then the resilience of the human spirit of people who live there. That combination together is the way you begin to get well from these kinds of devastating circumstances. So, government is really, there are times when government is absolutely essential. And there are times when government goes too far and does things that make you kind of angry. And has rules and regulations that you think are not very smart. But, by and large, I think this country’s government has served the country quite well.

There is no place like this. We have the strongest economy in the world. I think we’re more open and free society with liberty and freedom. This is a really remarkable place. Despite all of our imperfections. And what all of us say day to day about how we wish things were different. The fact is, every second year we get to grab the steering wheel, the American people get to decide. “Where do we head?”And we’ll do that, and we do that every couple of years and somehow we find our way out of disappointment. And we find our way towards success.

Brent:


I’m just going to leave that there. I think that’s perfect.

Sen. Dorgan:

Alright, good well thank you very much.

Brent:

Did I do OK?

Sen. Dorgan:

You did great. You have a good affinity for this. Number one you got a great voice, and second I think, having studied with Ed for many years, you know the issues really well.

Sen. Dorgan:

Thank you. I appreciate that. Like the nervousness of that first call with Byron Dorgan, I was very nervous.

Thank you so much.