A Conversation with Norm Dicks: ‘To Do the Right Thing’


If you’re from around here, Norm Dicks needs no introduction.

Dicks retired at the end of 2012 after serving 36 years representing Washington’s 6th congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.

He was elected to 18 consecutive terms, a total of 36 elections, a primary and a general every two years. He won his first race by 74% and never received less than 58% of the vote.

The Bremerton native played lineman for the Washington Huskies football team that won the Rose Bowl in 1961. Armed with degrees from the University of Washington, Dicks landed the position that would inspire and influence the remainder of his political career — as aide and administrative assistant to the late Sen. Warren G. Magnuson from 1968 to 1976.

The combination of his affable demeanor and fearless scrimmage-line grit made Dicks a force to be reckoned with in both Washingtons.

Here at home, he helped launch the massive construction of I-705, the restoration of the Pantages Theater, the conversion of Tacoma’s Union Station from a train station to a federal courthouse, and — though he did not have a primary role — brought a branch of the University of Washington campus to Tacoma. He played a big role in funding the Elwha dam removal, converted McNeil Island from a federal prison to a state facility, and helped fund restoration of the Nisqually Delta, now named after his great friend, the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. (The visitor center was named for Dicks, to his great delight). He was also huge in his passion for and support of the military and the people who serve. At the same time, he was on the front lines protecting old growth forests and the spotted owl, driving his logger constituents insane. His whole career was one big balancing act, he said.

Party politics were much different then and Dicks told KP News he is concerned by a turn of events previously unimaginable to him.

“We’re in a situation where each presidential election now becomes a test of whether we can function as a democracy,” he said. “Mike Pence saved the country January 6 by refusing to go along with this plot that Trump put together to overturn the election. That has never happened before.”

In the 2000 presidential election, Democratic candidate Vice President Al Gore and Republican George W. Bush tangled over the results of a Florida recount that went to the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of Bush. Gore abided by the decision and turned over the electors to Congress, and accepted the results.

“There is so much animosity now,” Dicks said. “When I was in Congress, there was always cooperation between the Democrats and Republicans. It goes back to Watergate; both Republicans and Democrats told Nixon he was done. Nixon, to his great credit, accepted that result.”

Dicks said that by the time the joint committee on January 6 gets its job done, Trump is going to be so discredited that even the Republicans will have to back away from him.

“Some of them already have and they’ve paid a price for having done the right thing, including a couple of congresspeople from Washington State: Dan Newhouse and Jamie Herrera-Butler,” he said. “There are heroes like Liz Cheney and Adam Kinzinger who went on the January 6 committee and gave it a bipartisan flavor and have done a great job under enormous pressure.”

Dicks said the threat to democracy isn’t only about electoral votes; it is the state legislatures and their willingness to change the rules to overturn election results.

“All this negativity? That just never existed, and I was up on that hill for 43 1/2 years,” he said. “I never once worried about an insurrection. It wasn’t even contemplated. The Republicans were just as concerned about things as the Democrats were. But now? It is very worrisome.”

The job of the secretary of state has become very important lately, highlighting the need to verify that elections are properly conducted and results upheld.

“We’ve got to elect good people,” Dicks said. “Our secretary of state (Kim Wyman) was a Republican (during the 2020 election). She did a good job. That’s what you’ve got to have on a state-by-state basis. We can’t have people that are going to lie, cheat and steal. I mean, that’s what we are facing.”

He said about the violence at the Capitol and threats against election officials, “it shows you just how crazy this thing has gotten to be.

“People get into this, like Rudy Giuliani. He was a hero on 9/11, then all of a sudden goes off the deep end. How could somebody change so radically? How can these people face their families? Bill Barr (Trump’s attorney general) for example. It’s hard to believe. Mark Meadows (Trump’s chief of staff during the last year of his term), a house member, gave up and now he’s basically ruined himself.”

A voracious reader, Dicks said he was in the middle of the autobiography of the late Washington State Gov. Dan Evans.

“That’s a book worth reading. He was much more progressive than a lot of Republicans and that’s why he won three elections — because people had confidence that he was going to try to do the right thing.

“That’s what’s missing: To do the right thing.”