Longtime Congressman Jim McDermott announced Monday, Jan. 4, he will retire from the U.S. House of Representatives following the conclusion of the 114th Congress, having served the 7th District for more than two decades.
McDermott was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 1988. Before that, he was elected to the Washington state Legislature in 1970 and then ran an unsuccessful bid for governor two years later. He successfully ran for state Senate again in 1974 and was reelected three times.
The outspoken Democrat said he first told his family about his plans to retire during his 79th birthday celebration on Dec. 28, “and they clapped.”
He said he was confident he could have ran again this year and won, but he had no desire to serve another two years in Congress.
While he has no plans yet to support a replacement candidate, McDermott said he hopes the person who fills his seat will be progressive. Currently, only Washington 43rd District Rep. Brady Walkinshaw and Edmonds businessman and Greenwood resident Jeff Stilwell have made bids for the District 7 Congressional seat, but more candidates are expected to make announcements prior to this year’s filing deadline.
“For the last 27 years, the people of Washington’s 7th Congressional District have chosen me to represent them in the U.S. Congress,” McDermott said. “The support and trust symbolized by the voters’ judgment is the highest honor they could have bestowed upon me, and I will retire from the House forever humbled and grateful for my constituents’ unwavering embrace.”
The congressman said he’s proud of the work he accomplished in housing, health care and transit, particularly his work securing funding for Sound Transit light rail, which is currently expanding both to the north and south.
He also spoke about the push he made during his first term in Congress to address the AIDS crisis when many lawmakers were hesitant, eventually getting more than $200 million into the budget to support those living with the deadly virus.
McDermott said he didn’t regret leaking to the media in 1996 a taped phone call between Ohio Rep. John Boehner, then-House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other House leaders strategizing how to deal with findings by an ethics committee against Gingrich that had been recorded by a Florida couple using a scanner. A federal judge later sided with Boehner in a lawsuit against McDermott, but he said Monday he felt his actions were in the best interest of upholding the First Amendment and the people’s right to information.
“The result was not necessarily good for me,” he added.
The Washington lawmaker was also outspoken against engaging in a second war in Iraq, stating beforehand that no weapons of mass destruction would be found and that he felt then-President George W. Bush would likely mislead people to make the war happen.
“In Congress, there were a lot of complaints that no one was coming out against George Bush in going to war,” he said, adding more than a decade later, “it has turned out to be an unending disaster.”
Leaving a legacy
From his Seattle office, McDermott said he could take people to a thousand places he’d successfully paved the way for through earmarks, such as the Northwest African American Museum and McDermott Place in Lake City, which provides affordable housing for veterans.
“I’ve got earmarks all over this city,” he said. “I don’t know how to communicate all that I’ve done.… My goal always was to figure out what’s best for the people.”
The 14-term Congressman said the current infighting among Democrats and Republicans in both the House and Senate didn’t play into his decision to retire and that what is happening in Congress now is nothing new to him.
“The problems we’ve got right now, I’ve seen them before,” he said, adding he’s certain Americans will eventually make greater demands of lawmakers to behave differently or vote them out.
As for what he’ll do after the 114th Congress, McDermott said there are still places in the world he has yet to see and that he enjoys painting. He also mentioned an interest in teaching.
“I want to be a teacher. I was a teacher in medical school,” he said. “…Dealing with students, you’re always forced to reconsider what you know.”
While the candidate field is small in fact and growing in speculation, McDermott did provide advice for whoever ends up taking his seat next year.
“Don’t be so sure you know what the answer is,” he said. “Listen.”
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