Six-term United States Representative Derek Kilmer, D‑Washington, announced in a letter Thursday that he will not seek reelection to Congress next year, citing the need for new challenges in his life and more time with the family he loves.
“I’m a pretty young guy with more chapters in my life,” Kilmer, forty-nine, wrote. “My plan is to ensure those chapters enable me to continue to make a positive difference. And I’d sure like to make a bit more time for those I love.”
Kilmer was elected in 2012 to succeed retiring Representative Norm Dicks, who had first been elected to the House in 1976, when Kilmer was but two years old.
Washington’s Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz is expected by people in the know to leave her campaign for governor, perhaps within hours, and announce that she is running for Kilmer’s seat. Twelve years ago, when Dicks retired, an immediate announcement from Kilmer preempted the field.
During his time in Congress, Kilmer has served on the House Appropriations Committee. He chaired, for four years, the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, a bipartisan panel which delivered 200 recommendations on how to improve the creaky, often-dysfunctional “people’s House.”
“The Modernization Committee showed that Congress can do things better when folks check their partisan agendas at the door and just focus on working together,” Kilmer wrote.
While a rising figure in Congress, Kilmer kept a hand-on approach to the 6th District, which includes both the Kitsap and Olympic Peninsula. The district includes rust-belt mill towns, a great national park, a major U.S. Navy shipyard, and – in Hood Canal and Puget Sound – sensitive marine waters in need of cleanup.
Kilmer never put on airs. His official biography mentioned Port Angeles High School, downplayed Princeton, and did not reference his doctorate from the University of Oxford in England. He prepped for Congress with eight years in the Washington Legislature, serving as State Senator for a swing district on the Kitsap Peninsula.
“It’s been my honor representing my hometown of Port Angeles and the entire Olympic Peninsula,” he wrote.
“My upbringing – seeing the challenges facing our region – motivated my service. It’s why the core mission of my office has been to create more opportunities for more people in more places.”
The 6th District covers a lot of ground, as did Kilmer.
In a newsletter earlier this year, he described the heavy dawn-past-dusk schedules to be endured, both in the district and in D.C.
He acknowledged on Thursday that it’s taken its toll. “As nourishing as this job has been, it has come at profound cost to my family,” he allowed.
“Every theatrical performance, musical recital I missed, every family dinner I was not there for. The distance I felt from my family for months after January 6th.”
More time-with-my-family is a frequent reason for leaving politics, frequently used by those in danger of losing their seats seats.
Kilmer has represented a district labeled “safe Democratic” that President Biden carried in 2020 by a seventeen-point margin.
With Kilmer, the obligation seems genuine.
He has for years written letters to his two offspring, Sophie and Aven, on his duties, initially chatty and lately of growing explanation into the importance of his work. “I tried to communicate to them that every day, in every way, I was trying to make things better for their generation – and for their country.”
Kilmer has also chaired – and co-chaired with Representative Suzan DelBene, D‑Washington – the New Democrat Coalition, a bloc of Democratic pragmatists in Congress. The NDs include most of the Democratic lawmakers from so-called swing districts. In his letter, Kilmer touted the group: “The New Democrats are the best kept secret in politics – a group of pragmatic, problem-solving Democrats who chase impact rather than headlines. Simply put, they’ve focused on getting things done for the American people. Our politics could use more of that.”
Kilmer has one major task left relating to his district.
He crafted, sponsored, and has twice pushed through the House a Wild Olympics bill, preserving as wilderness an additional 126,000 acres of federal land in the Olympic National Forest, surrounding the Olympic National Park.
The legislation has stalled in the U.S. Senate.
Kilmer held hearings around the Olympic Peninsula before writing the bill, which would also protect more than a dozen streams under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. The result has been legislation supported by conservation groups, businesses large and small, as well as the eight native tribes of the Peninsula.
With Dicks and now Kilmer, Washington’s 6th District has been splendidly represented in Congress for nearly fifty years.