Kent Conrad

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Kent Conrad
Kent Conrad official portrait.jpg
United States Senator
from North Dakota
In office
December 14, 1992 – January 3, 2013
Preceded byJocelyn Burdick
Succeeded byHeidi Heitkamp
In office
January 3, 1987 – December 14, 1992
Preceded byMark Andrews
Succeeded byByron Dorgan
Chair of the Senate Budget Committee
In office
January 4, 2007 – January 3, 2013
Preceded byJudd Gregg
Succeeded byPatty Murray
In office
June 6, 2001 – January 3, 2003
Preceded byPete Domenici
Succeeded byDon Nickles
19th Tax Commissioner of North Dakota
In office
January 6, 1981 – December 2, 1986
GovernorAllen Olson
George Sinner
Preceded byByron Dorgan
Succeeded byHeidi Heitkamp
Personal details
Gaylord Kent Conrad

(1948-03-12) March 12, 1948 (age 74)
Bismarck, North Dakota, U.S.
Political partyDemocratic
Spouse(s)Pam Schafer (divorced)
Lucy Calautti (1987–present)
ChildrenJessamyn Conrad
EducationStanford University (BA)
George Washington University (MBA)

Gaylord Kent Conrad[1] (born March 12, 1948) is a former American politician who was a United States Senator from North Dakota. He is a member of the North Dakota Democratic-NPL Party, the North Dakota affiliate of the Democratic Party. First elected to the Senate in 1986, he served as chairman or Ranking Member of the Senate Budget Committee for 12 years.

On January 18, 2011, Conrad announced that he was retiring from politics and would not run for reelection in 2012.[2] He said in a statement that it was more important that "I spend my time and energy trying to focus on solving the nation's budget woes than be distracted by another campaign."[2] Fellow Democrat Heidi Heitkamp was elected to replace him.

Conrad currently co-chairs the Bipartisan Policy Center's Commission on Retirement Security and Personal Savings.[3] He is also a member of the ReFormers Caucus of Issue One.[4] In addition, he serves on the board of directors of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.[5]

Early life[edit]

Conrad was born in Bismarck, North Dakota, the son of Abigail and Gaylord E. Conrad.[6] He was orphaned at a young age and subsequently raised by his grandparents in Bismarck.[citation needed] He attended Roosevelt Elementary, Hughes Junior High, and Wheelus Air Base high school in Tripoli, Libya,[7] before eventually graduating from Phillips Exeter Academy. He then went to college at Stanford, and received an M.B.A. from The George Washington University.

Personal life[edit]

Conrad has been married twice. His first wife, Pam, is the sister of former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture and former North Dakota Governor Ed Schafer;[8][9] they have a daughter, Jessamyn. Jessamyn Conrad is the author of What You Should Know About Politics ... But Don't, a purportedly nonpartisan political primer that was praised by Barack Obama and Bob Dole.[10]

On February 14, 1987, Conrad married Lucy Calautti, his 1986 Senate campaign manager, who is now a lobbyist for Major League Baseball.[11]

Early political career[edit]

After graduating from college, Conrad became a civil servant, working as an assistant to the North Dakota State Tax Commissioner, Byron Dorgan, who later became his colleague in the Senate. Conrad made his first entry into politics when he ran unsuccessfully for the North Dakota Auditor's office in 1976. In 1980 Conrad succeeded Dorgan as Tax Commissioner. Conrad was state tax commissioner until 1986, when he ran for the Senate.

U.S. Senate career[edit]

Committee assignments[edit]

Political positions[edit]

Conrad with President Barack Obama

In April 2006 Time named Conrad one of "America's 10 Best Senators". That same year The American commended him for his knowledge of economic issues. Conrad endorsed Barack Obama in the 2008 Democratic presidential primary.

Conrad was a leading member of the "Gang of 10", a conservative group that pushed for much greater offshore drilling in sensitive environmental areas. He was well known for using charts as visual aids when speaking in the Senate, which earned him the nickname "Godfather of Charts."[12]

Health care[edit]

In the 2009 negotiations over reforming America's healthcare system, Conrad strongly opposed a "public option." The AFL-CIO announced it would fund a primary challenge to Conrad in 2012 if he continued to oppose a public option.[citation needed]

On September 29, 2009, Conrad voted with Senate Finance Committee Republicans against an amendment to a health care bill that would have provided for a public option. He was supportive of the Stupak-Pitts Amendment, which places limits on taxpayer-funded abortions in the context of the November 2009 Affordable Health Care for America Act.[13]

Social policies[edit]

Conrad is more politically conservative than most Democrats. He voted consistently in favor of banning the partial-birth abortion medical procedure. He also opposes public funding of abortion, but voted in favor of lifting the ban on abortions on military bases.[14] Conrad has a mixed record on gay rights. While he personally opposes gay marriage, he voted against a proposed constitutional ban on it and has supported bills that prevent discrimination based on sexual orientation. On January 31, 2006, Conrad was one of four Democrats to vote in favor of confirming Judge Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court.[15][16]

Fiscal policies[edit]

On April 17, 2012, Conrad, a strong supporter of the Simpson-Bowles plan, announced his plan to offer a version of it that he, as a member of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, helped to develop. Lawmakers on the Senate Budget Committee could be forced to vote or modify the plan.[17][18]

Conrad was known for his deep understanding of monetary policies and budget issues. He identifies as a "deficit hawk", supporting a balanced federal budget,[19] but continues to support farm subsidies. He voted against Republican proposals to repeal the estate and alternative minimum taxes. He supported lower middle-class taxes, but increased taxes for people making more than $1 million per year. In 2010 he supported extending the expiring Bush tax cuts "at least until the economy is clearly recovering."[20]

Conrad was very vocal in his opposition to the spending policies of the George W. Bush administration. He contended that Bush worsened the national debt. Conrad also opposed most free-trade measures and strongly supported subsidies to family farmers.

Foreign policy and national security[edit]

In 1991 Conrad voted against approving the use of military force in Iraq. He was one of only 23 senators to vote against the war resolution of 2002. While he initially voted in favor of the USA PATRIOT Act, he has opposed warrantless wiretapping and government's continued use of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility.

Countrywide Financial loan scandal[edit]

In June 2008 it was reported that Conrad had received mortgages on favorable terms for a second home and an apartment building due to his association with Countrywide Financial CEO Angelo R. Mozilo.[21] Conrad acknowledged that he had spoken with Mozilo by phone.[22] In an April 23, 2004, email about one of Conrad's loans, Mozilo encouraged an employee to "make an exception due to the fact that the borrower is a senator."[21] Conrad denied any prior knowledge of such treatment and gave the mortgage discount to charity.[22][23] Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) called on the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate Conrad. In August 2009, after a yearlong inquiry, the Ethics Committee exonerated Conrad of any unethical behavior in his dealings with Countrywide.[24]

Electoral history[edit]


In the 1986 election, Conrad defeated the Republican incumbent, Mark Andrews, by 2,120 votes. Andrews had represented North Dakota at the federal level since 1963 (he had previously served in the House before moving to the Senate in 1981).

During the campaign, Conrad pledged that he would not run for reelection if the federal budget deficit had not fallen substantially by the end of his term. By 1992 it became obvious that this would not be the case, and although polls showed that the electorate would have welcomed his reneging on that pledge, Conrad considered his promise binding and did not run for reelection. Byron Dorgan won the Democratic primary election.

Conrad received an opportunity to remain in the Senate when North Dakota's other senator, long-serving Dem-NPLer Quentin Burdick, died on September 8, 1992. Burdick's widow, Jocelyn Birch Burdick, was appointed to the seat temporarily, but a special election was needed to fill the rest of the term. Viewing this opportunity as different from running for reelection, Conrad ran for and won the Democratic-NPL's nomination. He went on to win the special election, and was sworn in on December 14, 1992, resigning his original Senate seat the same day. (Conrad's original Senate seat was then filled by Dorgan, via appointment by the governor on December 15, 1992, to fill the seat for the brief period until he would have been sworn in under normal circumstances.)

Despite North Dakota's Republican leanings, Conrad was comfortably reelected in 1994—a year when Republicans won most of the Congressional seats that were not in heavily Democratic-leaning states.






  • Kent Conrad (D) (inc.) 69%
  • Dwight Grotburg (R) 30%
  • Roland Riemers (I) 1%
  • James Germalic (I) 0.6%


  1. ^ "Kent Conrad". San Francisco Chronicle. Associated Press. Retrieved January 2, 2012.[dead link]
  2. ^ a b Mark Memmott (January 18, 2011). "Sen. Conrad, D-N.D., Won't Run In 2012". NPR.
  3. ^ "Kent Conrad, Co-Chair, Commission on Retirement Security and Personal Savings; Former Senator from North Dakota". Bipartisan Policy Center.
  4. ^ "ReFormers Caucus Members". Reformers.
  5. ^ "Board Members". Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.
  6. ^ "(Gaylord) Kent Conrad". Retrieved January 2, 2012.
  7. ^ "Statement from Senator Kent Conrad on Death of Moammar Gadhafi" (Press release). October 20, 2011. Archived from the original on 2012-04-11. Retrieved 2012-11-07.
  8. ^ "Meet the nominee for Secretary of Agriculture". High Plains/Midwest Ag Journal. November 2007. Archived from the original on 2011-07-12.
  9. ^ Jerry Hagstrom; Keith Koffler (October 31, 2007). "Bush nominates former North Dakota governor as Agriculture secretary". Government Executive.
  10. ^ MinnPost - "Jessamyn Conrad: political daughter, political author (with political future?)"
  11. ^ Jelsing, Catherine (Fall 2002). "For the Love of the Game". NDSU Magazine. Archived from the original on January 5, 2013. Retrieved January 2, 2012.
  12. ^ Sarah Kliff (7 February 2013). "Here's what happens when you move into Kent Conrad's Senate office". The Washington Post Wonkblog.
  13. ^ Jonathan Allen; Carrie Budoff Brown (November 9, 2009). "Senate faces abortion rights rift". Politico.
  14. ^ "Kent Conrad on Abortion". OnTheIssues.
  15. ^ Roll Call Vote 109th Congress - 2nd Session (on the confirmation of Samuel Alito of New Jersey) Archived 2017-03-21 at the Wayback Machine, United States Senate, January 31, 2006. Retrieved November 26, 2018.
  16. ^ Kirkpatrick, David D. (1 February 2006). "Alito Sworn In as Justice After Senate Gives Approval". The New York Times. Retrieved 26 November 2018.
  17. ^ Damian Paletta (April 17, 2012). "Conrad's Budget Surprise: Simpson-Bowles". The Wall Street Journal.(subscription required)
  18. ^ Ezra Klein (April 18, 2012). "Can Simpson-Bowles really pass the Senate?]". The Washington Post blogs.
  19. ^ "Senator Kent Conrad | North Dakota". Archived from the original on 2010-10-02. Retrieved 2010-08-29.
  20. ^ Kim Dixon (July 22, 2010). "Divisions among Dems over tax cuts for affluent". Reuters.
  21. ^ a b "Countrywide's Many 'Friends'". Conde Nast Portfolio. June 12, 2008. Archived from the original on June 19, 2008. Retrieved June 21, 2008.
  22. ^ a b Editorial (June 22, 2008). "With Friends Like Angelo ..." The New York Times.
  23. ^ James R. Hagerty; Damian Paletta; Glenn R. Simpson (June 14, 2008). "Conrad, Dodd Deny Special Treatment on Mortgages". The Wall Street Journal. p. A3.(subscription required)
  24. ^ Fritze, John (August 7, 2009). "Dodd, Conrad cleared after ethics probe". USA Today. Retrieved January 2, 2012.

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by Tax Commissioner of North Dakota
Succeeded by
Party political offices
Preceded by
Kent Johanneson
Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from North Dakota
(Class 3)

Succeeded by
Preceded by Democratic nominee for U.S. Senator from North Dakota
(Class 1)

1992, 1994, 2000, 2006
Succeeded by
U.S. Senate
Preceded by U.S. Senator (Class 3) from North Dakota
Served alongside: Quentin Burdick, Jocelyn Burdick
Succeeded by
Preceded by U.S. Senator (Class 1) from North Dakota
Served alongside: Byron Dorgan, John Hoeven
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the Senate Budget Committee
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chair of the Senate Budget Committee
Succeeded by
U.S. order of precedence (ceremonial)
Preceded byas Former US Senator Order of precedence of the United States
as Former US Senator
Succeeded byas Former US Senator