With Norm Dicks out, 3 open seats put Wash. in national spotlight

Mar 4, 2012

Now that U.S. Representative Norm Dicks has announced he’s retiring, western Washington will have three open seats for Congress in this fall’s election. That’s unusual, and it could mean a lot of national attention for those elections.

Since most incumbents in Congress get re-elected by wide margins, there aren’t too many races where either party could easily win. 

"We are going to see money being spent on House elections here like never before," says political scientist Todd Donovan of Western Washington University. "That'll be kind of fun, actually."

Gunning to win here

Fun if you teach political science or love TV commercials. He says both parties will be gunning to win, and independent political action committees will also try to influence the outcomes.

"We’ll be seeing whatever the issue of the day will be, come August, October, November, playing out here on steroids in Washington, in TV commercials, in direct mail ads, in debates between the Congressional candidates."

There’s the first district, north of Seattle, where Jay Inslee is leaving to run for governor. There’s the brand new 10th district covering Tacoma and Olympia. And now the sixth district, which Dicks is vacating, stretching from Tacoma to the Kitsap and Olympic peninsulas.

Loss of power broker

Whoever wins those races, Washington state has lost some clout.  Not only was Dicks the top Democrat on the Appropriations Committee, but he was the only Representative from Washington, and not shy about funding local infrastructure. Dicks told KPLU he's most proud accomplishments include:

"The efforts we made to restore Tacoma, the downtown area: we built the Tacoma spur, we restored Union Station a a federal courthouse, did the Pantages Theater, Puyallup Indian land claims settlement. Tacoma looks much better. Bremerton looks much better."

He also helped make sure Seattle got its bus tunnel, and that parks were preserved on the Washington coast and in the Cascades.

Political experts say it won’t be easy for any of the three new representatives, to be elected this fall, to even win assignment to that plum committee. Then they’ll wait more than a decade to achieve influence.