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Conrad’s Retirement Impacts Indian Country

WASHINGTON –The unexpected retirement of Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D, is costing Indian country another ally at a time when allies are desperately needed.

Conrad announced today that he will retire from Congress at the end of his term and won’t run for re-election next year. In a statement, he said that he wants to focus on reducing the nation’s $14 trillion debt and on energy issues, adding it is more important to “spend my time and energy trying to solve these problems than to be distracted by a campaign for re-election.”

Conrad, 62, has been a senator since 1987 and has grown to become a strong supporter of Indian legislation and funding. Over the years, he has sponsored and supported a number of Indian-focused bills, and often made outreach to tribes of his region.

Tom Rodgers, a D.C.-based lobbyist for Carlyle Consulting, said the “hill just got a little steeper” for Indian country after he learned of Conrad’s retirement, noting that the senator has been a great champion for Native issues.

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“His public policy record on healing, educating, housing and bringing economic development to the Native American people has been truly outstanding,” Rodgers said. “He always understood within his soul the core values of sovereignty and eliminating abject poverty.

“This Native American warrior will be sorely missed by his Indian brothers especially at this very critical time when the direction of the public policy debate is becoming more about what to cut than what dreams to build. That is a direction which has historically proved harmful to those Americans who have always had the very least.”

Conrad’s retirement announcement comes days after Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., formally stepped down from the Senate. Dorgan, too, was a huge Indian country supporter, and served as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs since 2007. Republican John Hoeven, the state's governor, won the seat vacated by Dorgan. Political analysts expect Conrad’s seat to become a possible pick-up for Republicans in 2012.