It was another day of Normpalooza, and U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks explained why he was having such fun.
“I have a little time these days,” the 36-year Democratic congressman told Tacoma Rotary. “I don’t have to debate anybody, and no one’s throwing ads at me.”
Not that Dicks did a lot of debating when he was a candidate. But you get the point. For the first time since his first run for Congress in 1976, the Bremerton native isn’t running for office – not running for anything, really.
Except, perhaps, a chance to shape a legacy.
At stop after stop, almost since surprising nearly everyone with a March retirement announcement, the man dubbed Stormin’ Norman receives the thanks and praise of those who benefited from his time in Congress.
Call it the Norm Show.
I asked chief of staff George Behan for a list of honors and accolades his boss has received just lately: a proclamation from Sound Transit, the Distinguished Citizens Award from the Pacific Harbor Council of the Boy Scouts, membership in the Wild Salmon Hall of Fame, the Dan Evans Stewardship Award from the Nisqually River Council, the Paul Harris Fellowship from Rotary, and other recognitions from the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, the Student Conservation Association, the Henry Jackson Foundation, Humanities Washington, the Puget Sound Naval Bases Association and Tacoma City Club.
And then there are the ribbon cuttings for projects he helped win money for, such as the Bremerton Teen Center, the Donkey Creek restoration project, a new sewer plant in Belfair, a wastewater treatment plant in Shelton and the Hilltop Regional Health Center.
During her introduction at Rotary, Dawn Lucien tried to list some of the local projects. The Tacoma Spur, the cable bridge, the cleanup of Commencement Bay, the settlement of land claims by the Puyallup Tribe, federal help with the Murray Morgan Bridge restoration, the Pantages Theater, Union Station, downtown Tacoma streetscape and the Hope VI project at Salishan.
People in Bremerton have their own list, as does the state with items such as Puget Sound cleanup money, national park funding, Hanford cleanup and the Boeing tanker deal. Other lawmakers were involved, but all give Dicks lots of the credit.
It started even before he was elected. During a 1976 debate, rival and then-Tacoma Mayor Gordon Johnston attacked Dicks for not doing enough to win federal money for the Tacoma Spur.
“I leaned over to (Tim) Strege, who was my campaign manager, and said, ‘What is the Tacoma Spur?’”
He soon found out.
Norm Dicks would not be a favorite of the tea party. Nor is he looked up to by congressional reformers who think pork barrel politics have helped create the budget problems in the federal government. Seattle liberals love to look down their noses at his old-school style and bombast until they need something, of course.
But Dicks doesn’t measure himself by those standards. And frankly, neither does a majority of his constituents nor the elected officials and government managers who know the call to Norm Dicks is one of the first they make when there’s a problem.
Often it was Dawn Lucien herself who made that call.
For 18 terms, he acted as he was taught by U.S. Sen. Warren Magnuson – the path to power and influence is seniority and a willingness to help others so they’ll help you when asked. And it comes to those who are policy experts, as Dicks is in defense and natural resources.
“Some people call me the Representative from Boeing,” Dicks told the Rotarians. “It’s meant to be derisive. But I don’t mind it. It never hurt (the late U.S. Sen. Henry) Jackson and Maggie.”
Dicks leaves office in January. Sometime after that, another campaign is sure to begin – not by Dicks but on his behalf. It will be the effort to rename the federal courthouse in downtown Tacoma after the person most responsible for its construction and the restoration of Union Station next door.
I’m only guessing, but Dawn Lucien may be the one to make the first call.Peter Callaghan: 253-597-8657