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When it mattered most, Dodd stood up

Uncle Sam
Late Tuesday, I got a breaking news alert that Senator Chris Dodd planned to announce his retirement. I'd just finished writing today's column, but given this news, I started over. Overnight, the playing field had changed.

To say that the last year has been difficult for Chris Dodd is an understatement. As chairman of the Senate Banking Committee, he's been a lightning rod for public anger about the near-collapse of the banking system in 2008. Many feel he took his eye off the oversight ball with his quixotic presidential run and was too beholden to the financial interests he was meant to be overseeing. He never recovered from the AIG bonus affair, for which he was blamed somewhat unfairly, having been thrown under the bus by the current administration. And the Countrywide mortgage scandal refused to go away, despite Dodd having been cleared in an investigation by the Senate Ethics Panel.

On a more personal level, the senator lost his sister in July, and in August, one of his longtime friends and closest Senate colleagues, Senator Ted Kennedy. While serving as acting chair of the HELP committee on Kennedy's request, working Herculean hours to make progress on health care legislation, Dodd himself was diagnosed with prostate cancer. Given all this and uninspiring poll numbers, it's not surprising that he's decided to call it a day.

While in some ways this is a relief for Connecticut Democrats, who faced the possibility of losing a critical Senate seat, Dodd was a veteran politician who worked hard to bring about many important pieces of legislation, such as the Family and Medical Leave Act, which has prevented over 50 million Americans from having to choose between losing their job and caring for their family in need. It's all too easy to let the last 12 months overshadow Dodd's long and distinguished record of service, but I admire him greatly for the sentiments in his retirement speech:

"I have been a Connecticut senator for 30 years. I'm proud of the job I've done and the results delivered. But none of us are irreplaceable. None of us are indispensable.

Those who think otherwise are dangerous. The work to make our nation a more perfect union began long before I was elected to the Senate, and it will go on long after I'm gone. Our country is a work in progress. And I am confident it always will be."

It's hard not to contrast Dodd's words and with the "I will not let this result stand," statement of Connecticut's other senator after losing the Democratic primary in 2006.

For me, perhaps the most lasting legacy of Chris Dodd is that when others were silent under the egregious excesses of the Bush administration, he was not afraid to speak the truth to power because, in his words: "America stands for a transcendent idea. The idea that laws should rule, not men. The idea that the Constitution does not get suspended for vengeance. The idea that this nation should never tailor its eternal principles to the conflict of the moment, because if we did, we would be walking in the footsteps of the enemies we despised." For that, I cannot thank him enough.

Before the cameras stopped rolling on Dodd's retirement speech, Connecticut's Hamlet, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, finally abandoned his "To run or not to run" role and declared himself in the running for the seat, which must have had GOP primary contenders Rob Simmons and Linda McMahon reaching for the Tums. A fortuitously timed Public Policy Polling survey gives Blumenthal a 30 point or greater lead over all of the potential Republican rivals.

Thanks to Chris Dodd, this Connecticut Senate seat will most likely remain blue.

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