After Nearly Six Decades In Office, Dingell Decides Not To Run

John Dingell of Michigan, the longest-serving congressman in U.S. history, announced he won't run in 2014. As Tracy Samilton reports, Dingell's state will lose more than an icon when he retires.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

The longest-serving congressman in U.S. history is retiring: John Dingell. At age 87, the Michigan Democrat's announcement today was hardly a surprise. But Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton reports Dingell's departure is worrying to many in his district and his state.

TRACY SAMILTON, BYLINE: John Dingell is known to friends and enemies as the dean, and he's an icon in Congress. He authored or sponsored most of the landmark bills of the 20th and 21st centuries: The Civil Rights Act, Medicare, the Clean Air Act, the Affordable Care Act.

Even at age 87, in frail health, Dingell can summon moral outrage like no one else. Here he is condemning the government shutdown last year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

REP. JOHN DINGELL: I've never seen such small-minded, miserable behavior in this House of Representatives, and such a disregard of our responsibilities to the people.

SAMILTON: Dingell managed to get re-elected for 58 years even as his district changed its shape and demographic. Barbara Annis is one of his constituents.

BARBARA ANNIS: I'll miss him. I think he's done a marvelous job.

SAMILTON: That, even though Dingell fought simultaneously for the interests of the auto industry and the environment, and was a little too moderate for Annis' tastes.

ANNIS: But even in my old age, I'm learning that sometimes moderate is more likely to get things done.

SAMILTON: But for Dingell, words like moderate have lost their place of honor in Washington, and he says it's time to go. Former Michigan congresswoman Lynn Rivers says it's the end of an era of titans, when a chairman of the House Energy and Commerce committee - as Dingell was for decades - could wield power greater than the speaker of the House.

LYNN RIVERS: He has these relationships that have been built up over half a century. You know, he knows where the bodies are buried. He knows who owes him, and who he owes. And he knows the rules backwards and forwards.

SAMILTON: And Rivers says Dingell will not easily be replaced. And that could further erode Michigan's influence, even as politicians are already jockeying for a run at his seat.

For NPR News, I'm Tracy Samilton in Ann Arbor.

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