WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Doc Hastings will not run for re-election in November, concluding a 20-year career in Congress marked by zeal for conservative causes ranging from support for more energy development on federal lands to opposition to the Affordable Care Act.
The Pasco Republican announced his retirement Thursday, saying it was time for a “new person with new energy” to represent Central Washington’s 4th District.
“Everybody is expendable, including me,” Hastings said in a telephone call from Pasco, where he and his family met with reporters.
Hastings, 73, is the third member of Washington’s delegation to leave Congress in two years. Democrat Jay Inslee resigned in 2012 to run for governor, and Democrat Norm Dicks of Bremerton retired a year ago after 18 terms.
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Though not much drawn to the spotlight, Hastings nonetheless has wielded considerable power — much to the dismay of environmentalists — as chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.
Hastings has used his perch there to push back against what he considered excessive federal regulations of, among other things, pollution control, fracking for shale gas and the use of federal forests and waters. His committee has passed bills to open up more lands for drilling, logging and mountaintop mining.
Hastings is working to update — or gut, as critics say — the 1973 Endangered Species Act. He contends that threats of litigation and regulatory restrictions too often halt deserving economic projects, such as the Radar Ridge Wind Energy Project in Pacific County, which was scrapped in 2011 because it was located in the habitat for the threatened marbled murrelet.
Hastings has a lifetime score of 3 percent from the League of Conservation Voters. Only 9 members of the current House rank lower.
Hastings has been a loyalist of House Speaker John Boehner. In a statement, Boehner said, “In addition to being a skilled legislator and leader, (Hastings is) the epitome of grace and class, and he’s a very dear friend.”
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane, Hastings’ fellow Republican, lauded his leadership on farming, forestry and river-resources issues.
“With over half of all Western land owned by the federal government, Doc pushed for the sensible and sustainable use of the nation’s natural resources, encouraging American energy independence and the wise use of water resources for hydropower and farming,” she said in a statement.
Hastings’ retirement will mean a rare open race in the 4th District, which hasn’t elected a Democrat since Inslee held the seat for a single term before Hastings defeated him in 1994.
In 2012, Hastings won his 10th term with 66.2 percent of the votes, the biggest victory margin among the state’s delegation except for Democratic Reps. Jim McDermott of Seattle and Adam Smith of Bellevue. Hastings’ district also voted
for Mitt Romney over President Obama, gubernatorial hopeful Rob McKenna over Inslee and Republican Michael Baumgartner over Democratic U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell.
Susan Hutchison, chairwoman of the Washington State Republican Party, ruled out any chance of a Democratic upset. Given the state’s “top two” primary, she said, it’s more likely two Republicans will face each other in the November general election.
Hutchison noted eight legislative districts overlap with the 4th Congressional District, providing a ready supply of potential candidates. Among them are state Sens. Janea Holmquist Newbry and Sharon Brown and Reps. David Taylor and Brad Klippert.
Another contender might be Clint Didier of Eltopia, Franklin County, who lives in Hastings’ district and who made a longshot run for the U.S. Senate in 2010.
“He’s got the most name recognition,” as well as the advantage of statewide campaign experience, Hutchison said.
Hastings said he asks himself before each election whether to run again. He turned 73 last Friday, and said he decided he didn’t want to stick around Congress for one more term until he was 76. Hastings is the second-oldest member of the state’s delegation and the second-longest serving among its House delegation, behind McDermott, who is 77 and was first elected in 1988.
Hastings said Congress has grown more polarized since he arrived in 1995: Democrats today are more liberal and Republicans are more conservative.
But he said, “I am the same person I was when I was elected.”
Hastings is a fiscal hawk and a fierce critic of the Environmental Protection Agency. He has pushed to open more federal lands to oil and gas drilling. He has refused to advance out of his committee wilderness-protection bills championed by Sen. Patty Murray, Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, and other Washington state colleagues. These efforts include the Alpine Lakes Wilderness bill and expanding the wilderness area in the Olympic National Forest.
Asked if he might push to get a floor vote on those bills during his remaining time in Congress, Hastings said, “I will continue to work on legislation …, but nothing has changed.”
Hastings named as one of his achievements a 2003 provision fast-tracking citizenship for legal residents who serve in the armed services. Legal permanent residents previously could apply for citizenship after five years in the United States or after three years in the military; Hastings shortened that to one year of service.
Hastings also focused on cleanup of nuclear waste at Hanford, promoting Washington crop exports and wildfire prevention.
Hastings said he tried to work with Democrats whenever feasible. But he earned a spot in the annals of partisan politics as chairman of the House Ethics Committee from 2005-07.
Congress was in the midst of a wide-ranging bribery and corruption scandal involving convicted superlobbyist Jack Abramoff. Among lawmakers implicated was House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Texas. But Hastings rebuffed repeated calls to launch an ethics probe, even while DeLay gave up his majority leader post, was indicted on a charge of criminal conspiracy, then of money laundering and ultimately resigned from Congress in 2006.
Hastings said the ethics committee would have investigated Abramoff’s financing for DeLay’s overseas travels had he not quit.
Seattle Times reporter Jim Brunner and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.
Kyung Song: 202-383-6108 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @KyungMSong