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What's The Legacy Of Seattle's 'Congressman For Life,' Rep. Jim McDermott?

Rep. Jim McDermott represented the Seattle area for 14 terms.
KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols
Rep. Jim McDermott has represented the Seattle area for 14 terms.

Jim McDermott has represented Seattle in the U.S. Congress since 1989. He was elected to that office 14 times. But now, he wants to retire, to travel, to teach and to paint.

McDermott gained fame as an early and consistent critic of the Iraq War. He said George W. Bush would mislead the American people to lead us into war. He was called a traitor for that. But at the press conference where he announced his retirement, he said he doesn’t regret his words.

McDermott: “Somebody has to say that stuff. And this district gave me the power to do it.”

People on the street know his name, but many can’t name specific accomplishments.

KUOW: “What do you know about Representative Jim McDermott?”

Sarah Smith (passerby): “Sadly, not much.”

Lionel Berrysmith (passerby): “I don’t know what he did – but some people say he was alright.”

Once in awhile, somebody recalls a detail or two.

Charles Perry (passerby): “You know, he was a liberal, you know? And he did a lot of good things for Africa and poor nations. So, he’s pretty good. And he was for a better health care system. And I’m for that.”

McDermott said it was a struggle to communicate all that he’s done in a few sound bites.

But he does has a short list of things he’s really proud of.

His work on health care.

His work reforming the foster care system.

Then, there’s the money he managed to get earmarked in the federal budget.

Money for Sound Transit, for people living with AIDS.

McDermott: “I could take you around this city to a thousand places and show you. When we opened the African American Museum, in my speech there I said, ‘Now folks, I want you to look back at that building back there. That is an earmark.’ Now, I’ve got earmarks all over this city.”

So did McDermott really do much for Seattle?

KUOW put that question to Peter Jackson, a freelance editorial writer who’s also the son of the late U.S. Sen. Henry M. “Scoop” Jackson.

Jackson says McDermott’s legacy is kind of thin.

Peter Jackson: “But, I think we have to kind of put it in the context of Republican majority, kind of the nature of gridlock, the fact that it’s just very hard to get meaningful pieces of legislation out, especially for members of the Democratic party.”

McDermott has one more piece of legislation he wants to complete before he goes. He says he wants Congress to improve the way we fund mental health care. He says all the recent gun violence has him thinking about that.