Washington state's newcomers go to work in Congress


McClatchy Newspapers

After learning that he would rank 382nd in seniority in the new U.S. House of Representatives, Democratic Rep. Denny Heck of Olympia, Wash., did a quick calculation to figure out where he stands as a rookie on Capitol Hill.

"I'm 60 years old. That means if I live to be 114 that I'll probably be in the top 100," said Heck, adding that entering Congress was like "running into a burning house."

As 82 freshmen joined the House on Thursday, Heck had a leg up on the other newcomer from Washington state, Democratic Rep. Derek Kilmer of Gig Harbor, who will rank 391st in seniority.

"I'm sure he's going to mention that a lot in coming years," said Kilmer, adding that he was eager to get rolling: "It feels great to be able to dive in and get to work."

Both men formally took the oath of office, hoping that a transfusion of new blood would help ease the partisan wars in Congress.

While their arrival signaled a fresh start for Congress, it marked a big drop in clout for Washington state, which lost the muscle of the retiring Democratic Rep. Norm Dicks, a 36-year veteran who rose to No. 10 in House seniority.

"We're rebooting," Heck said. "It's inevitable."

Kilmer, a former state senator who took over for Dicks, said his predecessor left "an extraordinary legacy" in the state and that his experience will be missed.

"Tacoma's a different place, and Bremerton's a different place, as a result of his years of service," said Kilmer, who turned 39 this week.

Democratic Rep. Suzan DelBene will be the third freshman in the Washington state delegation. But she got a head start and was sworn in Nov. 13 after being elected to replace Democrat Jay Inslee, who resigned his House seat to make his successful run for governor.

In the Senate, 20 women – a record high – were sworn in Thursday. Two of them, Washington state Democrats Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, took on new high-profile assignments. Murray became the new chairwoman of the Senate Budget Committee, while Cantwell took over as head of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, assuming her first full committee chairmanship.

Heck, a former state representative and co-founder of a statewide public affairs television channel in Washington state, filled an open seat added as a result of the state's population growth in the 2010 census. The state now has 10 members in the GOP-controlled House: six Democrats and four Republicans.

Heck, who will join the House Budget Committee, said his first hope for Congress is "that the institution would become functional again" and that members begin working on compromises.

"Thus far it's been a dysfunctional House," he said. "But you know, we're turning a new page today so there's no point in approaching it with a half-glass-full attitude. Let's see what we can do."

Heck said his office set-up has been going smoothly, largely because he hired two of Dicks' former staffers as his chief of staff and deputy chief of staff. He interrupted an interview with a reporter to greet Republican Rep. Doc Hastings, calling him an old friend and "a really powerful dude around here."

"I served in the Legislature with Doc Hastings 900 years ago," Heck joked.

Kilmer will take a seat on the House Armed Services Committee, joining two others from Washington state: Democrats Adam Smith, the ranking member, and Rick Larsen. He said his assignment would be a good fit for his district, where "the military has an enormous impact."

Heck and Kilmer both said they backed the centerpiece of a tax bill passed Tuesday by the previous Congress that increased tax rates on households with incomes of more than $450,000. And both said they would have supported higher rates for households with lesser incomes of $250,000, as originally proposed by President Barack Obama.

But Kilmer said he was disappointed that the end-of-the-year partisanship in the former Congress prevented passage of a deficit-reduction plan to replace planned across-the-board spending cuts.

"The last few days of bickering at the end of the last Congress made me even more eager to come here and get to work," Kilmer said. "I put 34,000 miles on my car over the previous nine months, and the vast majority of people that I talked to were just tired of the partisan bickering."

Heck said he been spending 18-hour days unpacking and getting ready for his new job and that he didn't want to comment on all the specifics in the latest tax bill because he didn't have time to go through it all.

"I'm going to be a guy who actually knows what I'm voting on," he said.

Read more Politics Wires stories from the Miami Herald

Ellen Adelman, of Des Moines, Iowa, waits to listen to former Sec. of State Hillary Rodham Clinton speak during U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin's annual fundraising Steak Fry, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014, in Indianola, Iowa.

    Iowa Democrats react to Hillary Rodham Clinton

    Iowa Democrats gave a warm welcome Sunday to Hillary Rodham Clinton at retiring Sen. Tom Harkin's annual fundraiser. But not all party loyalists from the early-voting state were ready to hand her the 2016 presidential nomination just yet.

Former Sen. Hillary Clinton signs autographs during the Harkin Steak Fry in Indianola Ipwa on September 14, 2014. (Zach Boyden-Holmes/McClatchy)

    Hillary Clinton to Iowa: I’m back.

    Hillary Clinton all but kicked off her 2016 White House bid Sunday before a festive crowd of 6,000 in this pivotal state, presenting herself as a child and champion of the still-struggling middle class.

Designer Vivienne Westwood, alongside her granddaughter Cora Corre, during her Spring/Summer 2015 collection during London Fashion Week, at Victoria House in central London, Sunday, Sept. 14, 2014.

    Westwood show highlights Scotland, not fashion

    Vivienne Westwood may be staging a catwalk show, but Scotland — not clothes — is foremost on the designer's mind.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category