U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer
United States Representative Derek Kilmer speaks at NPI's 2014 Spring Fundraising Gala (Photo: Lincoln Potter/Samaya LLC for NPI)

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.

U.S. Representative Derek Kilmer
U.S. Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Derek Kilmer (Offi­cial portrait)

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.

About the author

Joel Connelly is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor who has reported on multiple presidential campaigns and from many national political conventions. During his career at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, he interviewed Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, George W. Bush, and George H.W. Bush. He has covered Canada from Trudeau to Trudeau, written about the fiscal meltdown of the nuclear energy obsessed WPPSS consortium (pronounced "Whoops") and public lands battles dating back to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness.

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