Congressman Jim McDermott has announced that he plans to retire.
Congressman Jim McDermott has announced that he plans to retire. Kelly O

After repeatedly insisting he had no plans to retire, U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott announced today he won't run for reelection to the seat he's held for 14 terms.

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Saying he is "forever humbled" by his time in Congress, McDermott told reporters today that he is "proud of what we've been able to do together for Seattle and the state of Washington."

The announcement comes almost exactly a month after Brady Walkinshaw—a 31-year-old state rep from Capitol Hill—announced he would challenge McDermott. Both men are Democrats. Walkinshaw, who's said he won't take any PAC money in the race, is expected to release his first round of fundraising numbers this week.

"I don't have any real doubt about getting reelected," McDermott said today. "The question was do you want to go back and do it... And I didn't."

McDermott said he told his family over the Christmas holiday about his plans to retire and called his Congressional colleagues in recent days.

When he announced his candidacy, Walkinshaw told me McDermott "has been on the right side of history during his time in the legislature. However, I think priorities have changed and the region is in a spot where we’re ready for the next progressive leader."

McDermott, in turn, seemed to scoff at Walkinshaw's candidacy in a comment to the Seattle Times, saying: “You wouldn’t give a Maserati to a 15-year-old. This is the government that runs the world.”

McDermott made a name for himself during his time in Congress as a staunch progressive, opposing the Iraq War, calling for a single-payer healthcare system, and, most recently, voting against increased screening for Syrian refugees. Last time he ran for the seat, he won with nearly 80 percent of the vote. According to the AP, McDermott's retirement makes him "at least the 30th House member to announce plans to retire or seek other office."

McDermott bowing out now opens the race up for a flood of candidates who may have been reluctant to take on an incumbent but are ready to run for an open seat.



High on the list of suspected candidates-to-be is King County Council Member Joe McDermott. He did not immediately return a request for comment. Some people also think Seattle City Council member Kshama Sawant could jump in. That's possible, but it's hard to see how that makes much sense—either for her priorities or her personal brand, which already has a national reach. Her campaign manager did not immediately return a request for comment. The 7th Congressional District covers much of Seattle, Shoreline, Edmonds, and Vashon Island.

Already, along with Walkinshaw, an unknown "small business owner in Edmonds" named Jeff Stilwell has sent out a statement saying he's running for the seat. Stilwell is calling for an end to the wage gap, two years of free college, "global wi-fi," and a "space elevator." (It's like Goodspaceguy all over again.)

An open race also makes high-profile endorsements more competitive. While labor unions and other large groups often side with incumbents, a race with no incumbent means they could endorse an upstart with less experience, like Walkinshaw.

McDermott's announcement today was heavy on reminiscing, from his travels to Africa to his anti-war positions, the early days of Sound Transit, and how media coverage of politics has "gone downhill" with the rise of blogs and cable news. (The nostalgia wasn't limited to McDermott. At one point, longtime Seattle P.I. Columnist Joel Connelly began a question with, "I remember voting for you in 1970.")

The Congressman hesitated to pick out any particular accomplishments he was most proud of, but said, "I've got earmarks all over this city." He also declined to endorse anyone as a potential replacement, but urged his successor to be accessible and flexible. He said he plans to spend his last year focused on mental healthcare legislation in response to recent gun violence and that he hopes to travel after leaving office.

At the end of his remarks, the 79-year-old congressman quoted the Lord of the Rings' Gandalf: “It is not our part to master all the tides of the world, but to do what is in us for the succour of those years wherein we are set, uprooting the evil in the fields that we know, so that those who live after may have clean earth to till. What weather they shall have [is not ours to rule].”

UPDATE: President Barack Obama sent out this statement about McDermott's retirement this afternoon:

For more than 40 years, Jim McDermott has worked tirelessly on behalf of the people of Washington State. As a state legislator, he helped pass laws that offered healthcare to unemployed and low-income Washingtonians, the first such program in the nation. In the United States Congress, he continued to be a much-needed voice for his most vulnerable constituents. Across America, you'll find families that are better off because Jim McDermott was fighting for them. I'm grateful for Jim's service, and Michelle and I wish him all the best in whatever the future holds.