Voters picking a new 7th Congressional District representative should demand more than they got from Rep. Jim McDermott.
U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott, D-Seattle, did his constituents one last favor by announcing his retirement a full 11 months before the next general election, and by not anointing a successor. That allows a free-for-all contest to replace him.
His constituents in Seattle, Burien, Vashon Island and Shoreline can now decide whether they want an ideological placeholder — as McDermott often was — or a more vigorous presence in policy debates in the other Washington.
McDermott’s 27-year congressman-for-life legacy is mixed. He ably reflected his Seattle district’s left-leaning politics. Most famously, he expressed unabashed skepticism about the George W. Bush administration’s case for war in Iraq based on weapons of mass destruction. He was right. Congress should have listened to him.
He also used his training as a psychiatrist to diagnose early deficits in the U.S. health-care system. In Clinton-era health-care battles, McDermott was a strong voice for a single-payer system. His legislative accomplishments on improving foster care are indisputable.
But McDermott often lost sight of his district’s interests in pursuit of his own, particularly on the international stage. He has been mostly absent for decades from helping ease the transportation woes of one of the most congested urban areas in the country. At his retirement news conference, McDermott — tellingly — pointed to decades-old work involving founding of Sound Transit, not more recent accomplishments.
McDermott’s style also veered toward scorched-earth politics. Although he was right on Iraq, calling the president a liar from Baghdad was poor form. So too was his decision to leak politically damaging tapes of Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich. McDermott ended up being reprimanded for giving false testimony to the House Ethics Committee, which played a role in him being marginalized as a policymaker.
The 7th Congressional District hasn’t had a genuine choice since 1988, when McDermott and then-Seattle City Councilmember Norm Ricesought election to an open seat.
In choosing a successor, voters should look to the east and south — to U.S. Reps. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, and Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor — for models of what tech-savvy, collaborative representatives can accomplish. It’s not enough to be a liberal lion in a liberal district.