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U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott's Legacy: From 'Baghdad Jim' To Foster Care Reform

Elaine Thompson
AP Photo
U.S. Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) meets with reporters in Seattle after announcing his retirement from Congress.

U.S. Representative Jim McDermott, a Seattle liberal Democrat who is retiring from public office, leaves a legacy both understated and high-profile, according to columnist Joel Connelly. On Monday, McDermott announced he will not seek a 15th term in office. A Legacy of Contrasts

Veteran political correspondent Joel Connelly has covered McDermott for decades. Connelly says McDermott’s “quiet national legacy” will be as co-author of legislation that reformed foster care in America.

But, Connelly says he’ll also be remembered for the controversy he stirred as the United States was on the verge of going to war in Iraq.

“He said President Bush would lie to get us into the war in Iraq, then, in Iraq, said Bush would mislead us to get us into war,” said Connelly.

Connelly says it prompted conservative media to nickname McDermott “Baghdad Jim.” But, says Connelly, McDermott “proved to be right.”

'A Classic Safe Seat'

McDermott rarely faced any electoral opposition. As a result, it seems he often received very little news coverage.

Connelly says it’s symptomatic of what’s going on nationally, with only 50 out of 435 seats in the House of Representatives actively contested.

“He had the classic safe seat which meant he could do what he wanted with it. He had sometimes very aggressive press secretaries and at other times ran a bit of a country club in terms of his staff,” said Connelly. 

Connelly says, as a result of this, he learned of McDermott’s “arguably greatest achievement” passing foster care reform from a doctor at Harborview.

“I never heard a word of this from his own staff,” said Connelly.

Fewer Northwest Reporters Covering Congress

Connelly says there are other reasons as well that we seem to hear very little about what our elected representatives are doing in Washington D.C.

Connelly remembers a time when there was a “full delegation” from the Pacific Northwest covering Congress.

"There were two people from The Oregonian, The Seattle Times, The Seattle Post-Intelligencer as well as all three Seattle TV stations, KING-TV had two people there,” Connelly said.

Now, he says, the occasional stringer covering a story in D.C. doesn’t have a good grounding in Northwest politics and has a hard time getting beyond “the cliché answer.”

At a news conference to announce his retirement, Rep. McDermott also bemoaned the loss of robust media coverage. McDermott said sometimes, with freelancers, he has to tell them what questions they should be asking because they are so unfamiliar with the Northwest.

Paula is a former host, reporter and producer who retired from KNKX in 2021. She joined the station in 1989 as All Things Considered host and covered the Law and Justice beat for 15 years. Paula grew up in Idaho and, prior to KNKX, worked in public radio and television in Boise, San Francisco and upstate New York.