Washington: Sixth District|
Rep. Norman Dicks (D)
Last Updated June 29, 1999
The rainiest part of the continental United States is at its far northwest corner, where the Olympic Mountains of Washington thrust into the Pacific Ocean. The waters of the Pacific evaporate, condense and then mist or rain down on the hills and mountains that jut up from the ocean and Puget Sound. The mountains here are always green, the trees that line the inlets towering, and during heavy rainfalls the rivers can rise six feet a day. This has long been lumbering and fishing country, where men go out to work at 6 a.m. in air cold enough to see your breath year round, and where dependence on the vagaries of nature and harsh environmental laws--like the ban on old-growth logging to protect the habitat of the spotted owl--have strengthened a traditional surly independence and suspicion of authority.
The inlets of Puget Sound, winding sinuously through the mountains, are among America's most picturesque waterways and strategically among its most important. Here during World War II, shipyards built and sheltered much of the U.S. Navy's Pacific fleet, and here during the Cold War much of the nuclear submarine fleet anchored at the giant Bremerton Navy base. To the south is the Tacoma Straits Bridge, the replacement of the narrow span that, in a scene preserved on newsreel (and still viewed by civil engineering students), started vibrating on the wrong harmonic in high winds and collapsed in 1940. On the other side is Tacoma, long the second-ranking city on Puget Sound, with its impressive massive docks and pleasant hilly residential neighborhoods.
The 6th Congressional District contains the Olympic Peninsula, Bremerton and most of surrounding Kitsap County amid various inlets of Puget Sound and about half of Tacoma. Politically, the Olympic Peninsula and Bremerton are working-class Democratic. Tacoma also is traditionally Democratic, though the 6th's portion of it is the more white-collar side of town. On balance the 6th is, after the central Seattle 7th, Washington's most Democratic district.
The congressman from the 6th District is Norman Dicks, a onetime University of Washington football player who was on Senator Warren Magnuson's staff when it was one of the best on Capitol Hill. Dicks returned home to Kitsap County to run for Congress in 1976, when the 6th District incumbent got the judgeship for which he had been hankering for 12 years. Dicks was elected easily that year, and in every year since except 1980, when Magnuson lost. He has passed up several chances to run for the Senate, and seems firmly committed to the House.
Dicks has brought to the House the aggressiveness and political shrewdness that were the hallmarks of the Magnuson staff in its golden days--''the word 'can't' leaves your vocabulary when you go to work for Norm,'' one former aide said--plus an interest in defense and intelligence reminiscent of Magnuson's colleague for 40 years, Henry Jackson. These talents would be deployed, he long assumed, from a place in the majority; in 1995 he said: ''In 27 years I never once thought about being in the minority. It never, ever occurred to me until about noon on election day'' in November 1994. But he has adapted smoothly to being part of the minority party, helped by the fact that on some issues, though not all, his goals are more congenial to many Republicans than Democrats. ''I still feel it's worth doing,'' he said. ''And with Speaker Foley gone now, we've got to have a couple of people who know how to operate. I've got to be the person who takes the lessons of 27 years and puts them to use.''
Dicks has a seat on the Appropriations Committee and on the Defense Subcommittee--a vital post for Kitsap County, where most workers depend on Pentagon payrolls, and for Washington generally, because of Boeing. In these posts Dicks, even in the minority, has exerted pivotal influence on important policies, usually operating quietly and behind the scenes. For example, in the early 1980s, Dicks took the lead on restoring Export-Import Bank loan authority--Boeing is America's biggest exporter and user of the loans--when the Reagan Administration wanted to cut it, and led a campaign that switched 80 House votes overnight. In the middle 1980s, he helped keep the MX missile alive in return for arms control commitments from the Reagan Administration. During the post-Cold War downsizing of the Pentagon, he has looked out for the F-117 Stealth aircraft and especially for the B-2 Stealth bomber, for which he has been an enthusiast since Defense Secretary Harold Brown proposed the plane in 1980. In the 105th Congress, he led the fight for more B-2s than the administration requested, arguing that their stealth capability might have deterred Saddam Hussein from invading Kuwait and prevented Scott O'Grady from being shot down over Bosnia. Dicks lobbied colleagues persistently at Camden Yards Stadium in September 1995, on the day Cal Ripken was setting his consecutive-games-played record, pausing only for the long fifth-inning ovation. The next day the B-2s were authorized, over the opposition of many Democrats and Budget Chairman John Kasich, by a 213-210 vote; Dicks told Kasich he had six or seven votes in reserve. In 1996 and 1997 he won four straight votes on the B-2: ''We are undefeated, untied, unscored on. That's the way I like it.'' Dicks complained when B-2s weren't used in 1998 air attacks on Iraq; he was vindicated when the B-2 was used in the bombing of Serbia and Kosovo in 1999, flying nonstop from Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri and being refueled in-air, delivering weapons with pinpoint accuracy, with the pilots returning to sleep in their own beds.
Dicks has also used his Appropriations seat to help Washington communities, funneling money to lumber mill towns when logging in old-growth forests was banned, passing timber salvage riders to keep mills going, dealing with the cost of maintaining salmon runs in dammed rivers. He worked to maintain Washington's military bases during two rounds of base closings. In 1997 he called for reintroducing grey wolves into Olympic National Park after traveling to Canada's Algonquin Province Park and hearing them howl in response to his simulated howls; he pushed to tear down the Elwha River Dam to help salmon runs; he obtained a full-time tug boat for Neah Bay to help oil tankers through the Straits of Juan De Fuca. Naturally he looks after the interests of the Bremerton waterfront and has pushed for funding of a Tacoma waterfront development from which visitors can gaze upon Mount Rainier and see I-705, the last of the original interstate routes to be built. He was not able to keep U.S.S. Missouri in Bremerton, but in the 1999 defense budget the largest construction project was for dredging the Bremerton shipyard and building a new pier for the carrier U.S.S. Carl Vinson. Over several years, $100 million was earmarked for improvements at Tacoma's McChord Air Force Base, and the Todd Pacific Shipyards in Seattle got contracts for another $100 million to repair three carriers. Dicks worked for five years to settle the Puyallup Indian land claims and advanced the claim that Lewis and Clark ended their journey on the Washington, not the Oregon, side of the Columbia River. In 1999, he became ranking Democrat on the Interior Subcommittee, replacing 89-year-old Sidney Yates.
Dicks served as ranking Democrat on the Intelligence Committee in the 104th and 105th Congresses, operating quietly, knowledgeably and in a bipartisan manner--quite an accomplishment in the House of the mid-1990s. In time that came to mix with his role on China. He has been a strong supporter of normal trade relations status for China; Washington accounts for one-quarter of U.S. exports to China, and Boeing foresees a great market there. In October 1998 he worked to get Boeing an exemption so it could sell $120 billion in high-tech airplanes to China over the next 20 years. But Dicks knows there are problems: ''We're trying to have a constructive engagement with China, and they just get worse and worse,'' he said in March 1996. How much worse began to be apparent in 1998, when Speaker Newt Gingrich set up a special committee to study technology transfers and, it turned out, espionage losses to China. Democratic Leader Dick Gephart wanted to give the ranking minority post on the panel to Bob Menendez, a strong partisan, but in June 1998 was prevailed on to appoint Dicks instead. Dicks found panel Chairman Christopher Cox and Republican leaders willing to take his suggestions seriously, determined to proceed in a factual, bipartisan manner. He took the same approach. Over the fall, during the impeachment controversy and campaign period, until the committee's report was delivered to the White House, there were no leaks of any kind, no hint of partisan wrangling. The committee held 22 hearings, took 200 hours of testimony from 75 witnesses, conducted another 700 hours of interviews with 150 more people and issued 21 subpoenas. Dicks went over the draft report with Cox until they reached agreement. ''We were surprised at how ineffective our counterespionage has been,'' Dicks said later. Optimistically, Dicks predicted the White House would declassify the report within a few weeks; in fact, they took until May 1999, obviously delaying for political advantage. But Dicks and Cox were ready with 38 specific recommendations for improving security and regulating technology transfers.
Safe. Dicks has established a solid hold on this Democratic leaning, though not solidly partisan district. He is unlikely to face stiff competition in 2000.
- Pop. 1990: 540,836
- 25.9% rural;
14.9% age 65+;
- 87.4% White,
2.3% Amer. Indian,
3% Hispanic origin;
53.9% married couple families;
23.9% married couple fams. w. children;
50.7% college educ.;
median household income: $27,882;
per capita income: $13,403;
median gross rent: $351;
median house value: $74,700.
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