Norm Dicks to call it quits after 36 years in U.S. House

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 2, 2012 

WASHINGTON — Rep. Norm Dicks, the top-ranked Democrat on the House of Representatives Appropriations Committee and one of the most powerful lawmakers on Capitol Hill, said Friday that he'd call it quits in January, ending a 36-year career and adding yet another name to a lengthening list of congressional retirees.

"Everybody has to go," Dicks, 71, said in an interview Friday.

Dicks, the longtime dean of the Washington state congressional delegation, said he wanted to spend more time with his family.

"I'd be 74 at the end of my next term," he said. "And you know, with all respect, I just think I've got 10 to 15 years, and I want to just spend them with my family, and more fishing, and a few of those things."

Dicks ranks 10th among the 435 House members in seniority and is the longest-serving House member from Washington state, topping Democrat Tom Foley, who left Congress in 1995 after 30 years.

Dicks said he'd been experiencing numbness in his neck as a result of injuries he sustained while playing football in his younger days.

"I just think it's time," he said. "I've got a few things with my neck that I've got to work on from football, and it's time to let somebody else do it."

On Capitol Hill, Dicks earned the nickname of "Mr. Boeing" for his fierce advocacy of the aerospace company, and he played a leading role in the years-long battle to win a Pentagon contract for the company to manufacture a fleet of aerial refueling tankers.

He's regarded as one of Congress' top experts on spending and defense issues, and he'll long be remembered for his ability to deliver earmarks — money for special projects for his district — before Congress began clamping down on the practice.

Dicks' retirement captured plenty of attention, even from the White House.

"Norm has spent his career working to protect our national security, championing the men and women of our armed forces and fighting for the many natural resources of Washington state and the Pacific Northwest," President Barack Obama said in a statement.

Washington Democratic Sen. Patty Murray called Dicks "a true Washington state institution" and said he'd served as her friend, mentor, adviser, teammate and brother.

Republicans joined in the praise, touting Dicks' ability to work across party lines in a Congress that's become increasingly polarized.

"I have rarely had the chance to work with someone of his decency, strong work ethic, jovial character and honesty," said Rep. Hal Rogers, R-Ky., the chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. "Norm has never hesitated to work together to maintain the comity and spirit of bipartisanship that is the hallmark of the Appropriations Committee."

Dicks worked for eight years as a top aide to the late Washington state Sen. Warren Magnuson before joining Congress.

"I've decided that after 44 years, eight with Sen. Magnuson and 36 years in the House, it's time to spend more time with my family and children and go out when you're still alive," he said.

He said he and his wife, Suzie, had decided "to change gears and enjoy life at a different pace."

Dicks joins a growing list of lawmakers who are choosing to step aside. According to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, he's one of 22 House members — 13 of them Democrats — who've announced that they'll retire this year. Fifteen others are running for Senate or other higher offices.

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