Democratic U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, who has represented the Olympia region in Congress since 2013, announced his retirement Wednesday, decrying attacks on the free press, President Donald Trump’s “distant relationship with the truth” and the demise of civic discourse that he said has accelerated under Trump.
Heck will complete his fourth term and continue in Congress through the end of next year. The only member of Washington’s congressional delegation who sits on the House Intelligence Committee, Heck said in a prepared statement that he made the decision to retire now that the bulk of the committee’s work on impeachment is completed. The committee released a 300-page impeachment report Tuesday night.
In an interview with The Seattle Times last month, he faulted Trump for a “clear shakedown” of Ukraine showing an “abuse of power and a betrayal of his oath of office.”
In a letter to supporters Wednesday, he outlined things he’s loved about being in Congress, including working to complete Highway 167, working to reauthorize the Import-Export Bank and reauthorizing the Native American Housing and Self-Determination Act.
But, he wrote, he’s also discouraged by his Republican colleagues.
“The countless hours I have spent in the investigation of Russian election interference and the impeachment inquiry have rendered my soul weary,” Heck wrote. “I will never understand how some of my colleagues, in many ways good people, could ignore or deny the President’s unrelenting attack on a free press, his vicious character assassination of anyone who disagreed with him, and his demonstrably very distant relationship with the truth.”
Last month, in the heat of his committee’s impeachment hearings, Heck said his Republican colleagues “refuse to answer the basic substantive issue.”
“Is it right or wrong for a president of the United States to coerce a strategic partner and ally to manufacture dirt on a domestic political rival for his personal and political gain, and then to cover it up?”
Republicans on the committee, in their 123-page report, argued that the president had “deep-seated, genuine and reasonable” concerns about corruption in Ukraine.
Heck won his fourth term last year with 61% of the vote, running against an underfunded challenger. But his district, which covers Olympia, Lakewood and eastern Tacoma and was created after the 2010 Census, has been slightly more competitive than many of Washington’s other Democratic-dominated districts. He won his prior general elections with 59%, 55% and 59% of the vote.
Heck had $1.4 million in his campaign account, with nearly 75% coming from political action committees. He had only one announced challenger, Joshua Collins, a 26-year-old truck driver running on a socialist platform including Medicare for all, universal public child care, nationalizing pharmaceutical production and abolishing the CIA. Collins, who’s running as a Democrat but calls himself a Democratic Socialist, had raised about $43,000, as of the end of September.
Collins said Heck’s retirement signals a “changing of the guard.”
“Gone are the days where corporate fundraisers could hold their seats unopposed for essentially limitless terms,” Collins said in a prepared statement. “Grassroots, small-donor campaigns with policy focused on regular people are the future.”
Heck, 67, was elected to the newly formed 10th Congressional District in 2012, after running unsuccessfully in 2010 in Southwest Washington’s 3rd Congressional District. His criticism of Trump’s unceasing attacks on the media should, perhaps, come as no surprise — Heck previously hosted a TV news talk show for a decade.
Heck was first elected to the state House of Representatives at age 24 and served for 10 years in the 1970s and 1980s. He was chosen by his Democratic colleagues as majority leader from 1981 to 1985.
In the 25 years between his two stints of legislative service, Heck largely stayed in public service with brief forays into private business. He ran a losing campaign for state schools superintendent in 1988 and then was an aide and, eventually, chief of staff for Gov. Booth Gardner.
In 1993, he co-founded TVW, Washington’s statewide version of C-SPAN, which broadcasts the state Legislature and other governmental proceedings. He served as the network’s CEO for 10 years and hosted “Inside Olympia,” a weekly news show.
His connections at TVW led to a relationship with Rob Glaser, the founder of RealNetworks, who served on the public-affairs station’s board of directors. Heck was an early investor in RealNetworks, making millions of dollars on the pioneer in internet streaming audio.
Heck took his RealNetworks profits and invested in a variety of businesses, from batting cages to tech firms and commercial real estate. He co-founded Intrepid Learning Solutions, a corporate project management and training company.
He wrote and directed a documentary about the state Supreme Court, published a memoir, a mystery novel and a book on the future of Washington schools.
Now, Heck says, he plans to retire to spend more time with his wife and write “at least” two books.
Heck doesn’t name Trump in his retirement letter, and he writes that “to some degree he is a symptom and not the cause.”
“The truth is that civic discourse began degrading before him,” Heck wrote. “At times, it is as though there are no rules or boundaries. Success seems to be measured by how many Twitter followers one has which are largely gained by saying increasingly outrageous things, the more personal the better. There are simply too many hyperbolic adjectives and too few nouns. Civility is out. Compromise is out. All or nothing is in.”