WASHINGTON – With U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Wash., announcing his retirement after 18 terms, Indian country is losing a major appropriations advocate in Congress.
“I have been thinking about this for years. At some point you have to retire. I just decided this was the right time,” Dicks, 71, told The Associated Press.
President Barack Obama thanked Dicks for his service in a statement: “Norm has spent his career working to protect our national security, championing the men and women of our Armed Forces and fighting for the many natural resources of Washington State and the Pacific Northwest.”
Since 1976, Dicks has served on the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, making him one of the most powerful appropriators in Congress, given his seniority. He is also the ranking Democrat on the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, a platform that has seen him argue fervently for increased funding for Indian health, education and law enforcement programs.
Dicks’ decision to retire was widely viewed as surprising, given that he could have been chairman of appropriations in the next U.S. Congress if the Democrats were to take control of the body, which is possible given the unstable climate in Washington.
Dicks has long expressed interest in protecting tribal interests. Among other tribally-focused accomplishments, “He was a key player in the historic land claims settlement with the Puyallup Tribe of Indians and the creation of the bypass highway around the Tideflats, breakthroughs that greatly expanded the capacity and potential of the Port of Tacoma,” noted The News Tribune of Tacoma, Washington.
In 2010, he introduced legislation to transfer the new lands into trust for the Hoh Tribe. This year, he supported passage of the Quileute Tribe’s tsunami and flood protection bill.
“Dicks has been a lion, said Chris Stearns, an Indian attorney from Seattle and former committee counsel in the House of Representatives. “For the past 35 years he has been able to affect almost every aspect of Indian policy that has come out of Congress.”
While strong generally on the appropriations front for tribes, Dicks has been considered more of a mixed bag on some sovereignty and treaty fishing rights closer to his home state. Plus, during the George W. Bush administration, he played a role in reducing congressional funding in a way that has prevented a full historical accounting of the Individual Indian Money trust involved in the Cobell litigation.