Old injury, discourse play role in Rep. Dicks’ departure
Rep. Norm Dicks stands at Glines Canyon Dam in Olympic National Park in 2004 to discuss financing of the Elwha River dam removals, which began last year. In his announcement that he won’t seek re-election, Dicks listed the Elwha River restoration as one of his biggest accomplishments in 18 terms in Congress. -- Peninsula Daily News photo
By Paul Gottlieb
Peninsula Daily News
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Dicks, 71, the ranking Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, announced his decision Friday, saying in a statement that he and his wife, Suzie, “have made the decision to change gears and enjoy life at a different pace.”
That pace has included some long-distance running.
In a telephone interview from his Washington, D.C., office later Friday, Dicks, whose district has included Clallam and Jefferson counties since 1993 after redistricting from the 1990 Census, said his greatest environmental achievement in nearly four decades in Congress was the successful, decades-long effort to decommission the Glines Canyon and Elwha dams on the Elwha River.
The $325 million effort — the largest dam removal project in U.S. history — began in earnest in mid-September when workers began tearing down the dams.
But Dicks said mid-September also was right around when the Bremerton native and former University of Washington lineman, first elected in 1976, and his wife began discussing his departure from the House.
A legislative aide to former U.S. Sen. Warren Magnuson before being elected to Congress, Dicks recalled that he served with three “great Americans” in his political career, all from Washington state: Magnuson, who was defeated; former House Speaker Tom Foley, who was defeated; and former Congressman and Sen. Henry “Scoop” Jackson, a legendary hands-across-the-aisle politician and two-time presidential candidate who died in office.
“At some point, you need to say, ‘Am I going to spend my whole life here or decide after 44 years of service it’s time to let someone else do it?’” Dicks said.
Political discourse has gone downhill, too, Dicks suggested, and that’s bothered him.
He pointed to the contentious town hall meetings he attended, including on the North Olympic Peninsula, during the debate over President Barack Obama’s health care plan.
“When you have a few town hall meetings, that also inspires you a little bit,” he said — as in thinking about leaving.
“That caught my attention,” he said of those meetings.
“I love the whole thing, I love being here, I’ll be here this weekend working on stuff I’m working on. I love it. But at some point, you have to say it’s time.”
Dicks’ parents lived to be 85, so in that respect, he has longevity on his side, he noted.
But there also are a “few issues” from his football days that the 1963 University of Washington graduate said played, he estimated, a 25 percent part in his decision to step down.
“My neck, I’m concerned about it,” Dicks said.
Two discs in his neck “impacted together” while playing guard and linebacker for the Huskies, he said.
It has progressively made it more and more painful to bend his neck, a condition aggravated by “a ton of arthritis,” Dicks said.
“We blocked and tackled with our heads in those days,” he said in explanation.
“It was crazy.”
Dicks experiences numbness and does physical therapy almost every day but is not taking medication for the malady, he said.
He still plays tennis and uses elliptical exercise machines but doesn’t go running.
“You put all of these things together, and the fact is you want to spend more time with your family, and they all live in Washington state,” he said.
“It’s kind of an accumulation of things.”
Dicks is vice chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee and chairman of the Appropriations Committee on Defense.
He is prohibited from getting a lobbying job for one year after he departs from office.
“I haven’t really thought much about it,” he said of working on K Street, Washington, D.C.’s lobbyist stronghold.
Nor has he been called by any companies interested in using his connections a year after he steps down.
“They wouldn’t call,” he said. “They know.”
Dicks also said he might work in public service.
“I may work on something like salmon restoration; I might do something completely different,” he said.
“I’ll just see what’s out there. It could be, if my neck does not get better, I’ll retire and go live on the Hood Canal and go to Neah Bay and fish off [Ediz] Hook.”
Dicks has a proud connection to the Hook that goes back before his days as a congressman — and points to his skill, at an early age, in bringing dollars to his district.
As Magnuson’s aide in the late 1960s, he said he had a role in bringing $5 million in federal money to the city of Port Angeles for the thick carpet of rip-rap that protects the iconic promontory from the elements.
Senior Staff writer Paul Gottlieb can be reached at 360-417-3536 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last modified: March 03. 2012 6:17PM