Dingell to retire after 58 years in Congress

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By Stephanie Shenouda, Daily News Editor
and Allana Ahkter, Daily Staff Reporter
Published February 24, 2014

U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.) officially announced his decision to retire from the U.S. House of Representatives after not seeking re-election this fall. The announcement, released in a statement from his office, came Monday morning.

At 87 years old, Dingell is the longest serving Congressman with 58 years under his belt, assuming the seat after his father, John Dingell, Sr. passed away in 1955. Some of his most notable accomplishments include passing legislation for the Clean Water and Clean Air Acts and the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Most recently, he contributed to the Affordable Care Act, which was signed into law in March 2010.

In his prepared remarks for the annual “State of the District” address to the Southern Wayne County Regional Chamber of Commerce, Dingell expressed sentimental feelings about leaving the position he held for so long.

In his address, he thanked his staff, colleagues and wife for remaining loyal to him and supporting him throughout his career. He praised his constituents and the people of Michigan for letting him serve them.

“There is no greater privilege than a life spent in service, and I know how fortunate I have been to spend my life as a Member of Congress,” he said. “I have done my best for the people who live here — my neighbors, my friends, those who supported me and those who didn’t.”

Dingell added that his health was not a factor in his decision and cited disillusionment with Congress in general as his main decision to step down.

“This Congress has been a great disappointment to everyone, members, media, citizens and our country,” Dingell said. “Little has been done in this Congress, with 57 bills passed into law. This is not Heinz packaged varieties, it is the laws passed by the Congress.”

On Monday, legislators around the state and nation, including President Barack Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Carl Levin (D–Mich.) responded to Dingell’s decision.

Biden, who has worked closely with Dingell during the 2009 auto-industry bailout, expressed his high regard for the most senior member of Congress. He lauded Dingell’s deep respect and care for his constituents and fellow members in Congress, as well as his advocacy for legislation that has helped make the United States a more “just, fair and free country.”

“John has always been more than Mr. Chairman to me,” Biden said. “He’s been Dean, the longest serving Member of Congress and one of the most effective in our history. There’s never been a colleague I’ve admired more.”

In January, Biden praised Dingell’s work and passion for the auto-industry in his address at the Detroit Auto Show.

Levin commended Dingell for his determination and generosity toward Michigan residents, adding that he has known no better person in government during his tenure in office.

“Everyone who cares about Michigan has benefitted from his tireless advocacy for our state,” Levin said.

State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D-Ann Arbor) noted how recent disunity and bickering in Congress added his input as to why the Congressman decided to retire. He said money corrupts the original principles Congress held at the start of Dingell’s career.

“What has happened in American politics is that money, particularly big money from corporate interests, have come to so dominate political discourse that there isn’t a lot of room left for elected officials in Congress to come together and work out difficult issues,” Irwin said.

LSA senior Meg Scribner, chair of the College Democrats, spoke to Dingell’s status as a prominent Michigan political figure.

“Congressman Dingell is going to have a great legacy, not just for the number of years he served, but for the legislation he was involved in,” Scribner said. “His accomplishments, the Endangered Species Act and Affordable Care Act among them, will continue to impact Americans long after he leaves office.”

Scribner said she could understand Dingell’s frustration at the sense of partisan gridlock that he cited in his announcement as impeding social and political change.

Though she could not speculate about his retirement plans, Scribner said she’s sure Dingell’s presence will be missed on the Capitol Hill, and that he’ll always be involved with Michigan politics.