Top Dem on House Approps committee announces retirement

Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee, will retire at the end of 2012, he announced Friday.

Dicks, who was in line to chair the powerful Appropriations panel if Democrats were to win control of the House in November, joins a growing list of senior members of Congress to call it quits this year.

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In a statement, the 18-term congressman said he wanted to “change gears and enjoy life at a different pace.”

“The privilege of serving in the House of Representatives, with the endorsement of the voters every two years, is indeed an honor unlike no other profession in our country and I have truly enjoyed every day here and have cherished all of the friendships we have made with many of the finest public servants in the nation,” Dicks said. “I am proud that many of these friendships have crossed the ideological and party lines that tend to separate us, and I have always believed that we can achieve greater results if we leave politics aside when the election season and the floor debates are over.”

The decision came as a surprise to Dicks's colleagues, a Democratic aide said. The lawmaker didn't inform members of the Washington state delegation until Friday morning, shortly before he made his public announcement.

Next in line to succeed Dicks as Appropriations ranking member — or chairman, if Democrats re-take the House — is Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D-Ohio), who is facing a primary battle with Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) in a consolidated district. Their primary election is Tuesday. If Kaptur loses, next in line would be Rep. Pete Visclosky (D-Ind.).

A source close to Rep. Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), a 12-term member who ranks below Visclosky in seniority, said she was actively pursuing the top Democratic post on appropriations and had already begun making calls to colleagues seeking support.

With Dicks' retirement, Boeing loses perhaps its most vocal advocate in Congress. Dicks touted his work with the aerospace giant in his retirement announcement, noting he was instrumental in ensuring a $100 billion Air Force refueling tanker contract for the company.

Dicks received praise from both sides of the aisle for his work in the House.

The senior senator from his home state, Sen. Patty Murray (D), called him “a true Washington state institution.”

“He is our state’s quarterback here in Congress, and I can’t imagine our delegation without him,” Murray said in a statement. “To me, more than anything, Norm is the guy who loves Washington state more than life, who would do anything to defend it, and who works everyone to the bone to make sure the families he represents are taken care of. And he doesn’t just fight hard — he wins. I will miss his voice here in our nation’s capital. And we will all miss his ability to make sure federal policy works for Washington state families.”

Dicks was also praised by his frequent sparring partner, House Appropriations Committee Chairman Hal Rogers (R-Ky.).

"Norm Dicks and I have been friends and colleagues for many years, and I have rarely had the chance to work with someone of his decency, strong work ethic, jovial character, and honesty," Rogers said in a statement. "Despite our ideological differences, Norm has never hesitated to work together to maintain the comity and spirit of bipartisanship that is the hallmark of the Appropriations Committee."

Dicks, 71, was first elected in 1976.

The 18-term lawmaker was appointed to the Appropriations committee in his first term, and he briefly served as chairman of the panel’s key Defense subcommittee in 2010 following the death of Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.).

One Democratic aide said the House's recent ban on earmarks had likely played a role in Dicks's decision to retire. "Being on the Appropriations Committee isn't what it used to be," said the Democrat.

Dicks's Tacoma-based seat will most likely remain in Democratic hands — the old district was won by both President Obama in 2008 and Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004, and became a bit more Democratic in redistricting. State Sen. Derek Kilmer (D) is said to be looking at the race.

Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Chairman Steve Israel (D-N.Y.) thanked Dicks for his service and expressed confidence Dems would hold onto the seat.

“This is a strong Democratic district that President Obama won with 58 percent and Senator John Kerry won. We look forward to electing a Democrat next November who will create jobs, protect the middle class and the Medicare guarantee for Washington state seniors," he said in a statement.

He is the 21st House Democrat to announce that he will not seek reelection and the 13th to retire outright rather than seek a higher office.

Across the aisle, 15 House Republicans are forgoing reelection.

— Erik Wasson and Cameron Joseph contributed.

This story was last updated at 2:36 p.m.