Washington’s current longest-serving member of Congress has decided to retire after nearly three decades of service to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Congressman Jim McDermott, seventy-nine, announced at a press conference today in Seattle that he won’t seek reelection in 2016, setting the stage for what will undoubtedly be a crowded Top Two election to succeed him next August. McDermott has represented Washington’s most liberal congressional district, the 7th, since 1988. He has won reelection in the past with 80% of the vote or more.
“This was not an easy decision, because I don’t like to quit… But there comes a time when you say to yourself, enough,” McDermott told reporters gathered for his announcement. He took questions for more than a half hour, reflecting on his legacy, accomplishments, possible successor, and service to the country.
McDermott said that he told his family over the Christmas holiday break that he’d decided not to run again, explaining that he had realized there were other things he wanted to do in his life. He recounted how colleagues George Miller and Norm Dicks had reached to similar conclusions in past cycles, choosing to hand off the baton off to someone new. McDermott figures it’s his time to do that now.
He says he hopes his successor will be a progressive, and preferably someone who can work effectively with other members of Congress, regardless of party. McDermott noted he doesn’t get hung up on labels. Trust is what matters.
“One of the problems in politics right now is the issue of trust,” he said, going on to lament, “There’s so little trust left in the Congress right now.”
State Representative Brady Walkinshaw had already announced he would run for McDermott’s seat, but now he will almost certainly have competition, as McDermott’s decision to retire will almost certainly prompt a number of state lawmakers, county councilmembers, city councilmembers, and others to launch exploratory bids for Congress. A position like U.S. Representative in a district like Washington’s 7th just doesn’t open up very often.
Tributes to McDermott began to pour in almost immediately.
“For more than forty years, Jim McDermott has worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of Washington State,” said President Barack Obama.
“As a state legislator, he helped pass laws that offered healthcare to unemployed and low-income Washingtonians, the first such program in the nation. In the United States Congress, he continued to be a much-needed voice for his most vulnerable constituents. Across America, you’ll find families that are better off because Jim McDermott was fighting for them. I’m grateful for Jim’s service, and Michelle and I wish him all the best in whatever the future holds. ”
“Jim has been a bold and progressive voice throughout his four decades of service in Congress,” said Governor Jay Inslee. “He has capably represented Seattle on a long list of important issues including health care reform and his very vocal opposition to the Iraq War. His storied career is one Seattle will recall for years to come.”
“Congressman Jim McDermott has been Seattle’s courageous, progressive voice in Congress for over 25 years,” said Jaxon Ravens, Washington State Democratic Chair. “He was and is a hero for many of us, fighting for health care to be a right for everyone and against the unjust war in Iraq.”
“A psychiatrist, McDermott brought much-needed expertise to the conversation on mental health policy in Congress. Thank you, Congressman McDermott, for your decades of leadership and service to our city and state.”
“Jim McDermott has brought total integrity and dedication to this institution,” said McDermott’s colleague Sander Levin of Michigan. “For him, public service has meant serving the public interest, not self-interest. He used his medical background to help shape quality health care for all, with a particular focus on health care for women and children. He also has been a champion for a host of international issues, helping to forge AGOA, a trade program between the U.S. and African nations. I will be among many who will miss his capacity for strong personal friendship.”
“From the beginning of this campaign, I made it clear that I have an enormous respect for Congressman Jim McDermott’s progressive values and long history of public service,” said State Representative Brady Walkinshaw.
“His leadership on efforts including the creation of our State’s Public Disclosure Commission, our State’s basic health plan, his steadfast devotion for peace, and his recent role in improving foster care services in our country leaves a remarkable legacy. Today I underscore those statements and thank Representative McDermott for his decades of service to the people of Seattle and our region.”
“He is leaving a proud legacy that I hope to build upon. He has been a consistent voice for working families and labor, a voice for equitable access to healthcare, and a voice for people who don’t yet have a seat at the table. Looking ahead, the Congressman’s thoughtful remarks today on the importance of bipartisan work in this year’s Congressional session around mental health are so timely and important to our region. Jim McDermott has ably served our state and region in an extraordinary way. Thank you Jim, for all you have done.”
“Jim McDermott has been bringing Washington State values to Washington, D.C., since 1989,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine.
“He has been a champion of preserving the social safety net, protecting the environment, and ensuring that everyone in the nation and abroad is treated fairly and with respect. He has bucked the cynicism of Congress and confronted our nation’s challenge with candor and resolve.”
“Congressman McDermott’s entire career has been dedicated to public service — not just in Congress, but in the United States Navy, as a doctor, and as a Washington State legislator. His commitment to the well-being of our community, and of all the people of the nation and world, is unmatched.”
“Congressman McDermott has been a friend and partner to King County for many years, and I extend my gratitude for his decades of exceptional service.”
This post will be updated as more reaction is received.