For 25 years, a defender of defense

Listen to 6th District Democratic Rep. Norm Dicks recall the ups and downs of his 25 years in Congress, one would think he spent the entire time at the Pentagon, not the U.S. Capitol.

The 13-term U.S. representative, a native of Bremerton who now lives in Belfair, recalled his quarter century in office during an interview on Monday, Jan. 21.

Now 61, Dicks was a University of Washington law school graduate and policy wunderkind on the staff of Sen. Warren Magnuson when elected to Congress in 1976. He never left.

“If I had a goal at that time, it was probably to be in the House and then to run for the United States Senate,” Dicks said. “I have always loved the legislative process.”

But Dicks said the chance to move to the Senate never truly materialized.

“Every time there was an opportunity, I had to go up against (Mike) Lowry, who was a King County, liberal Democrat. Being from Kitsap and Pierce counties and being very pro-defense, that was a problem in the Democratic Party in Washington. The Senate thing just never happened. It never worked out.”

Ask Dicks about his greatest successes and frustrations in Congress, and he sticks to defense themes. Few people in the “other Washington” know defense issues more cogently than Dicks. If Al Gore had been elected president, pundits had Dicks penned in as Navy Secretary or perhaps even Secretary of Defense.

Dicks has been on the House Defense Appropriations Subcommittee for 23 years, and the House Military Construction Subcommittee in recent years.

“There are not two more important subcommittees to Kitsap County, to Pierce County than those two, in terms of being able to do important things and keeping people employed here,” Dicks said.

Though Dicks never has had a committee chairmanship, he is working his way up in seniority. If Democrats regain control of the House, Dicks think chairmanship of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee or even of the House Appropriations Committee is within his grasp.

In Dicks’ estimation, his greatest accomplishments all have involved defense issues.

They include placing powerful D-5 missiles on Subase Bangor’s Trident submarines and getting four of them converted to cruise missile platforms, expensive work to be completed at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.

He’s also proud of his work encouraging the Navy to homeport its new Seawolf submarine, the USS Jimmy Carter, at Subase Bangor beginning in 2004-2005, and the carrier USS John Stennis in Bremerton when the Carl Vinson leaves for refueling.

Dicks also was a key player in advocating for the B-2 stealth bomber and pushing for the MX nuclear missile (which got him censured by the Democratic Party).

Dicks said his job is not without frustrations, even in the defense realm in which he is an acknowledged expert.

“The one that irked me the most is that we should have bought some 747s for cargo-carrying purposes,” Dicks said. “But, on the other hand, Boeing acquired McDonnell Douglas and we get the C-17 and I get 50 of them at McChord (Air Force Base). We are the West Coast base for C-17s and that’s not all bad.”

Outside of military legislation, Dicks said he has other problems on his radar screen.

“The most frustrating thing in the civilian realm is transportation in the state of Washington and, of course, the economy,” Dicks said. “We’ve got a great economy. We’ve had a great run for 20 years. This is our first real downturn in a long time.”

On a positive note, Dicks is proud of the federal money he has funneled to his hometown. His mother still lives in the family home on Montgomery Avenue. His father Horace died in 2001.

Dicks said he garnered $26 million for the Bremerton Transportation Center, $750,000 for the Bremerton Boardwalk and another $750,000 to overhaul the ex-USS Turner Joy destroyer last year. He also had a hand in obtaining federal money to refurbish the Admiral Theatre and the city’s Gateway Project near the west end of Naval Station Bremerton.

Dicks said he can do “a hell of a lot” for his hometown.

“We have HUD issues, we have housing issues,” Dicks said. “One of the problems that West Bremerton has is the age and quality of the housing. It has deteriorated. A lot of the people, 60 percent of these units are (owned) by absentee landlords. We need to work on that and simply make Bremerton look better.”

Dicks said he has met new Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman and feels the two can do business, federally speaking.

“I told the mayor, whatever he is working on, we will try to be of assistance to them,” he said. “The federal government plays an enormous role in a community like this.”

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