Norm Dicks, who played guard for the University of Washington football team, but quarterbacked the state's congressional delegation, announced he won't seek re-election after serving 18 terms in the U.S. House. He is 71.
Dicks, like his mentor and former boss, Senator Warren Magnuson, has been a stalwart on the House Appropriations Committee, bringing home largesse to Washington. A native of Bremerton, Dicks protected his home state defense establishment, most recently helping secure a billion-dollar Boeing Air Force refueling tanker contract. The Bremerton Naval Base couldn't have had a more loyal, capable or unabashed defender.
But he also pressed for money to clean Puget Sound and Hood Canal, to restore the spotted owl and remove dams on the Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula to return salmon runs.
"It's hard to quit. I love this job," Dicks told reporters as he announced his decision. "I learned from the greatest two senators — Magnuson and Senator Henry Jackson."
Senator Patty Murray, who handles spending issues on Washington's behalf in the Senate, called Dicks "a true Washington State institution. More than that, he is my mentor, my friend, my advisor, my teammate and my brother. He is our state's quarterback here in Congress. I can't imagine our delegation without him."
Few others can, either. Dicks was elected to Congress in 1976. He worked the previous eight years in Washington, D.C. for Magnuson, a legendary figure known for his appropriations policy of getting something for Washington for everything he gave to another state. One admirer said Magnuson was the "lion of the Senate" and Dicks became the "lion of the House."
As befits a former college football lineman, Dicks was known affectionately as Stormin' Norman. He has a booming voice and outgoing personality. He is well-known for belting out songs at parties. After playing for the Huskies in the 1961 Rose Bowl, Dicks graduated with a degree in political science and later took his law degree with the University of Washington.
The Daily Weekly in Seattle noted that Dicks' retirement comes on the heels of allegations he directed large sums to clean up Puget Sound, including through a public-private partnership run by his son, David Dicks. A state audit identified financial mismanagement in the partnership, which led David Dicks to resign in 2010.
The Washington Post did an extensive investigative report earlier this year on congressional earmarks, noting nearly $16 million had been directed toward the partnership. The elder Dicks denied any conflict of interest, saying the money would have gone to water cleanups in the nation.
Dicks represents Washington's 6th District, which has a Democratic cast, but also a lot of small towns that can be the petri dishes for Republican candidacies. Political analysts say the frontrunner to succeed Dicks is state Senator Derek Kilmer, a Democrat from Gig Harbor.
Kilmer's district includes Bremerton and he has shown Dicks-like tendencies. His website features stories about helping military spouses, honoring a fallen state trooper and investing in infrastructure.