Dicks’ retirement a loss for us and for Congress

November 28, 2012 

I will miss Congressman Norm Dicks when he retires from Congress at the end of this year. For whatever the criticisms of Dicks, to me, he is the last of the true congressional statesman. He functioned in a bipartisan manner and put the welfare of our nation ahead of party politics. It seems that members of Congress just don’t operate that way anymore. A few years ago, I watched him on C-SPAN debating the Department of Interior subappropiations budget. He genuinely cared about the opinions of his Republican colleagues, even yielding his time to them when appropriate. As I watched Dicks treat his colleagues with civility, respect and decency, I wished the rest of Congress, and other politicians, would exhibit the same behavior.

Dicks is a well-known proponent of the armed forces who carefully guarded the military bases in Washington state from cuts and closures. And while he voted for the Iraq war, he was strong enough as a person to admit when he was wrong. I respect that. We lost family in Iraq, and we currently have family on domestic bases. I don’t think for one minute that Dicks wasn’t troubled by the loss of life of our military personnel and he sincerely cares for the safety of those serving now. It takes a strong person to admit that voting to proceed with a war was a mistake. I haven’t heard a politician admit something that profound since. Mostly, they just change their story.

The main reason the retirement of our congressman is such a loss is that he has been an incredible champion in Congress for arts, heritage, historic preservation and our national parks. He genuinely understands the direct connection between historic preservation and economic development. The most profound example of his legacy is the renaissance of downtown Tacoma. Dicks’ rehabilitation of Union Station into the federal courthouse became the impetus for other historic preservation projects and new development. From the University of Washington Tacoma campus to the new history museum, he recognized that historic preservation was a method of breathing new life into his city. Nationwide, Dicks helped communities succeed in their economic development initiatives through historic preservation grants, the Save Americas Treasures program and tax credits. And it worked. Further, our national parks system couldn’t have had a better advocate. He recognized its importance for heritage tourism, recreation and the preservation of our incredible landscape. Even as budgets for our national parks declined, Dicks always strived to maintain the agency as best he could.

For a time, there was criticism about his son leading the Puget Sound Partnership. In all reality, the congressman I got to know, the avid fisherman, genuinely cared about the Sound, regardless of who runs the partnership. He adores the natural beauty of our state and respects the integrity of our environment. All of which has been reflected for decades in his congressional budgeting and priorities.

Finally, I will miss Norm Dicks because whenever a group of us visited his office in Washington, D.C., or met with him when he was back in the state, he treated everyone like a good friend. Whether a hug, a handshake or a slap on the back, he never put on airs or acted with a sense of entitlement. Norm Dicks genuinely believed he worked for us.

I wish all congressional members were required to take a class from Norm Dicks on political civility, and putting our national interests and its people first. But sadly, that won’t be the case. Not having him in Congress will be a loss for all of us. It won’t be the same without him.

Allyson Brooks is a historic archaeologist for the state Department of Archaeology and Historic Preservation. She volunteers as a board member for the League of Women Voters of Thurston County, Temple Beth Hatfiloh and the Governor’s Mansion Foundation and Preservation Action. She may be reached at allysonlilian@gmail.com.

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