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Norm Dicks Picks His Spots, Including When to Exit

18-Term Member Wants Bipartisan Deal-Making to Be Focus of His Legacy

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call

At a time when bipartisan heavyweights are being felled at random and the word compromise is taboo, Rep. Norm Dicks says he is leaving on his own terms.

He will pass on a sour-grapes retirement, such as those of Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), who cited frustration with the lack of bipartisanship. He will avoid an electoral defeat such as the ones suffered by Reps. James Oberstar (D-Minn.) and John Spratt (D-S.C.), taken out by upstarts.

Instead, the Washington Democrat, ranking member of the Appropriations Committee, is leaving amicably at the end of his 18th term, forgoing a chance, albeit slim, to become chairman next year.

“I really just felt it was the right time. I just felt that I didn’t want to be one of the people who either lost or died in office,” he said during a recent wide-ranging interview in his Congressional office. “I just really felt that I had had a good run.”

That is not to say he would not prefer to stick around. Showing off bandages on his hands from recent carpal tunnel syndrome surgery, the 71-year-old said he is troubled by health problems, chiefly a neck injury from his football-playing days at the University of Washington that has been causing numbness.

“I wouldn’t want to be hanging on. I just wouldn’t want to do that,” he said. “I’ve always felt that I want to be able to do this job at full speed every single day, and these things were starting to nag at me a little bit.”

He’ll take time for much-needed therapy, he said, while he works for a few more years and splits time between Washington, D.C., and Washington state.

Still, he has a few parting shots for the chamber he’ll leave behind: Tea party Republicans are “reckless,” he said, for viewing compromise as a bad word. Legislative paralysis in the Senate — where he hoped to end up one day, though it “never felt right” — “is just amazing to me.”

But, Dicks said, all in all, he is fond of his time on Capitol Hill, where he spent his entire professional career. Now, he is thinking about his legacy.

“I want to be remembered for somebody who was bipartisan from the day I walked in here to the day I left. I have always believed that there is nothing of real significance achieved if it isn’t bipartisan,” he said, surrounded by memorabilia of his proudest deals.

There is a CIA Director’s Medal awarding his years of service on the House Intelligence Committee. There is a land claims settlement between the Puyallup Tribe and the City of Tacoma that he helped negotiate in the 1980s and ’90s. And of course a 54-pound salmon he caught on a fishing trip with family, a memento of his work preserving salmon runs in Washington state.

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