It’s going to take a while to get used to the thought that the “Senator” part of Senator Byron Dorgan soon will be in the past tense. For most of my adult life, Byron has been an elected official of exceptional conviction and resolve. He also has been an employer and friend of mine. Name a fight that pitted global corporations and entrenched financial interest against the little guy in the U.S. economy, and Byron probably has been there. He has also sought to address global hunger and bring some sanity to foreign affairs.
Byron’s retirement, which he announced recently, isn’t just a loss for the Senate. It marks the waning of a political outlook that took shape in the farm states more than a century ago and that has given spine to the nation’s politics for decades. Byron is probably best known today for opposing the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which since the Depression had held the speculative urges of the banking industry in check. In a prescient speech on the Senate floor in 1999, he warned that Congress would “look back in ten years time and say we should not have done this.” He called it practically to the year. (Only seven other senators voted along with him.)