From writing bills to thriller novels: Sen. Byron Dorgan’s unlikely career change

Jonathan Karl, Richard Coolidge, and Jordyn Phelps
Power Players
From writing bills to thriller novels: Sen. Byron Dorgan’s unlikely career change

Politics Confidential

After 19 years in the Senate, Byron Dorgan was ready for a change. The North Dakota Democrat stopped writing legislation when he left Congress and took up writing books instead.

Now out with his fourth book—a thriller novel—Dorgan jokes that there isn’t much of a difference between writing bills and novels, telling “Politics Confidential,” “People say …’Okay, well, you were in politics. Now you write fiction—same thing.’”

From the title of Dorgan’s new book, Gridlock, you might guess that it’s about Congress. But this is a different sort of gridlock.

“The word ‘gridlock’ certainly defines Capitol Hill at the moment, but this gridlock is about the American electric power grid system,” Dorgan says of the book. “In this case, Iran and Venezuela introducing a virus into our electric grid system to try to shut down the electric power in this country, which would be a pretty significant problem as you might imagine.”

Dorgan characterizes his fictional novel as a “beach read,” but he says it also carries a message about the real modern-day threat posed to cybersecurity.

“This is a new digital age in which the next war may not be fought with things that explode,” he says. “It might be digital, might be cyber terror shutting down an electric grid system, shutting down a water delivery system, a transportation system.”

When it comes to his former career in Congress, Dorgan says there isn’t much he misses about being in the Senate, aside from the friends he left behind.

“The Senate is not the place that I joined many years ago,” he says. “If you're in the Senate, you're in Congress, and you get nourishment from accomplishment, you're starving. I mean, there's nothing happening there that is accomplishing things that are necessary and important for the American people at the present time.”

He describes his former colleagues in Congress as “some of the nicest, best people” he’s ever met, but says “they combine together to … seem unable to get things done.”

Asked who he would cast as his villain if he were to write a book about Congress, Dorgan declined to answer except to say that there are “a few I ended up liking less than others.”

“They’re all good men and women,” Dorgan says. “Most people are extraordinary. They don't get to the United States Senate without having some significant talent and a real passion to want to do … good things for their country.”

To hear more of the interview with Dorgan, including what character he says ABC’s own Jonathan Karl could play if his novel were turned into a movie, check out this episode of "Politics Confidential."

ABC's Arlette Saenz, John Bullard and J.P. Whiteside contributed to this episode.