Keeping a watchful eye on the Pentagon

To listen to Sixth District Rep. Norm Dicks recall the ups and downs of his 25 years in Congress, one would think he spent the entire time at the Pentagon — not the U.S. Çapitol.

The 13-term U.S. representative, a native of Bremerton but now a Belfair resident, recalled his quarter century in office during an interview with the Bremerton Patriot last Monday.

Now 61, Dicks was a UW law school graduate and policy wunderkind on the staff of Sen. Warren Magnuson when elected to Congress in 1976. He has never left.

“If I had a goal at that time, it was probably to be in the House and then to run for the United States Senate,” Dicks said. “I have always loved the legislative process.”

But Dicks said the chance to move to the Senate never truly materialized.

“Every time there was an opportunity, I had to go up against (Mike) Lowry, who was a King County, liberal democrat. Being from Kitsap and Pierce counties and being very pro-defense, that was a problem in the Democrat Party in Washington. The senate thing just never happened. It never worked out.”

Ask Dicks about his greatest successes and frustrations in Congress, and he will always go back to defense themes. Few people in the “other Washington” know defense issues more cogently than Dicks. If Al Gore had been elected president, pundits had Dicks penciled in as Navy Secretary at worst, or Secretary of Defense at best.

Dicks has been on the House Defense Appropriations sub-committee for 23 years and more recently the House Military Construction sub-committee.

“There are not two more important sub-committees to Kitsap County, to Pierce County than those two, in terms of being able to do important things and keeping people employed here,” Dicks said.

Though Dicks has never had a committee chairmanship, he is working his way up in seniority. Dicks think a chairmanship of the Defense Appropriations sub-committee, or even of the House Appropriations Committee is still within his grasp.

In the defense realm, Dicks considers his greatest accomplishments as:

l Arms control work.

l Placing powerful D-5 missile on Subase Bangor’s Trident submarines and now getting four of them converted to cruise missile platforms (hugely expensive work to be completed at PSNS).

l Pushing the MX missile (which got him censured by the Democratic Party).

l Advocating for B-2 stealth bombers (the military has 21, but Dicks would like to see 20 to 40 more stationed worldwide).

l Having the Navy homeport its new Seawolf submarine, the USS Jimmy Carter, at Subase Bangor, beginning in 2004/2005 and the carrier USS John Stennis in Bremerton when the Carl Vinson leaves for refueling.

Dicks said his job is not without frustrations, even in the defense realm in which he is such an acknowledged expert.

“The one that irked me the most is that we should have bought some 747s for cargo-carrying purposes,” Dicks said. “But, on the other hand, Boeing acquired McDonnell Douglas and we get the C-17 and I got 50 of them at McChord (Air Force Base). We are the West Coast base for C-17s and that’s not all bad.”

Outside of the military work he does for the Sixth District, Dicks said he has other problems on his radar screen.

“The most frustrating thing in the civilian realm is transportation in the state of Washington and, of course, the economy,” Dicks said. “We’ve got a great economy. We’ve had a great run for 20 years. This is our first real downturn in a long time.”

On a positive note, Dicks is proud of the federal money he has funneled toward his hometown. His mother still lives in the family home on Montgomery Avenue. His father Horace died in 2001.

Dicks said he garnered $26 million for the Bremerton Transportation Terminal, and $750,000 for the Bremerton Boardwalk and another $750,000 to overhaul the ex-USS Turner Joy destroyer last year. He also said federal money helped refurbish the Admiral Theater and was directed, through the state, toward the city’s Gateway Project near the west end of Naval Station Bremerton.

Dicks said he can do “a hell of a lot” for his hometown.

“We have HUD issues, we have housing issues,” Dicks said. “One of the problems that West Bremerton has is the age and quality of the housing. It has deteriorated. A lot of the people, 60 percent of these units are (owned) by absentee landlords. We need to work on that and simply make Bremerton look better.”

Dicks said he has already met new Bremerton Mayor Cary Bozeman and feels the two can do business — federally speaking.

“I told the mayor, whatever he is working on, we will try to be of assistance to them,” he said. “The federal government plays an enormous role in a community like this.”

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