By Gary R. Ness
The announcement this week of the retirement of Senator Byron Dorgan D-ND (pictured left) shocked just about everyone in North Dakota. You don’t have to be a political watcher in the state to know the name Byron Dorgan, you just have to be a citizen. Senator Dorgan has been on the political fore front since he was 26 and appointed to the office of Tax Commissioner for the state. Yes, a collector of taxes and still very popular having been reelected for ten years. He moved on with a win, in 1980, to the House of Representatives and twelve years later was elected to the Senate in 1992. He will be a legend in the future – history/political science departments in the university system would be well advised to make the story of Senator Dorgan a large part of a semesters class work. His career has been what my grandfather would say; “A wonderment!” A populist, in a conservative state, who won every election he was in, except for a 1974 loss to another North Dakota political powerhouse, Mark Andrews. That loss just set the stage for his victory in the House in 1980. With that stage set we have to say goodbye to a real advocate for aviation. No one has supported the Essential Air Service program in Washington DC like Senator Dorgan. His passion for the program was rooted in his populist upbringing and his concern for the central part of the USA and it’s need for a connection to the national air service system. His belief, that rural areas need good air service to stay connected to the national and global economy, drove him to support the program every time in was attacked by the R’s or D’s in
Washington. He was an advocate and instrumental in creating the funding for the general aviation entitlement funding of the FAA-AIP program. This program created the most important funding to the general aviation infrastructure than anything in the past fifty years of airport planning, development, construction, repair and maintenance. He supported general aviation at all stops, largely because of his knowledge of the need for general aviation and the fact that he is a private pilot. He would take the time to listen to the concerns about FAA aggressive enforcement efforts and worked within the system to make the changes beneficial for the flying public.
His tenure on the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation produced the Chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Aviation Operations, Safety and Security. However it is this author’s opinion that the legislative fights of Cap and Trade and Health Care have blunted the good work that could have come from his role as Chairman. Now we won’t get the chance to see what could have been modified or changed in the workings of the FAA for the benefit to the industry.
Who will carry on, carrying on? No idea, but one does know he will be missed on the floor of the Senate. He will however, be missed more in the old Senate Cloak room, making the deal. That was his real work of art.
Ness is a former Director of the North Dakota Aeronautics Commission, having served in that capacity for over 20 years.