It was probably inevitable that a Washington Post report on congressional earmarks would turn up something on U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair.
As a veteran member of Congress who has risen to leadership, he’s as well-positioned as anyone to bring home the bacon – more politely known as earmarks – to his district and state. For most folks, that’s fine – a perk that goes along with having a congressman with lots of seniority.
But here’s where it gets dicey with Dicks: More than $15 million that he secured from 2007 to 2010 went to the Tacoma-based Puget Sound Partnership, a state agency headed by his son, environmental lawyer David Dicks. Most of that was funneled through supposedly competitive processes administered by the Environmental Protection Agency that turned out to not be so competitive after all, according to the Post. They had only one applicant for the grants – the Puget Sound Partnership.
That fed into the narrative that many people already believed – that the younger Dicks got his job as executive director of the partnership at least in part because of his connection to the elder Dicks. A fledgling state agency tasked with a huge job – bringing together efforts to clean up Puget Sound – would benefit, after all, from close links to a source of federal largess.
It didn’t help matters much that David Dicks’ management abilities came into question when state auditors uncovered multiple spending violations at the partnership. They found that the agency had cost overruns, had circumvented state contracting laws by awarding no-bid contracts (to former staffers and co-workers of Rep. Dicks), and had misspent state funds on gifts and items that weren’t compatible with existing state equipment. On top of that, the PSP fired an employee who had accused David Dicks of using agency resources to campaign for a King County candidate – then paid her $40,000 not to sue.
David Dicks left the agency in 2010, shortly after Republicans won control of the U.S. House – which meant his father lost the chairmanship of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. Even though he left the PSP under a cloud, he beat out more than 70 other applicants for another state job. He is now making $75,000 working part time as director of strategic partnerships and civic engagement at the University of Washington’s College of the Environment.
During Rep. Dicks’ 35-year career in Congress, the environment has been a top priority. There’s no reason to believe the former Husky football star ran interference for the Puget Sound Partnership only because his son was its executive director. We’re confident that he’ll continue to champion efforts to clean up Puget Sound.
The partnership is on more defensible ground now under executive director Gerry O’Keefe. Its mission is too important for it to be tainted by even hints of nepotism, cronyism and favoritism.