June 6, 2013 at 9:01 am

Nolan Finley

Finley: Political gentleman a straight shooter in Congress and out

Finley and Dingell discuss the Wayne Co. jail and ...
Finley and Dingell discuss the Wayne Co. jail and ...: This week on the Countdown Nolan Finley and Debbie Dingell take on the Wayne County jail and John Dingell's record service in Congress.

John Dingell points to the out-sized antlers covering a wall of his Dearborn congressional office. "Those are from the biggest elk I ever shot," he says, and then goes on to recount the long-ago hunt in riveting detail.

From the antlers we move to a painting of blue quail, and a rollicking story about a Texas hunt with a General Motors executive in which a downed covey of the tough birds miraculously revived and ran off before he could clean them.

That's how it goes whenever I meet U.S. Rep. John Dingell. This time, I was in Dearborn to talk about his upcoming milestone — on Friday he becomes the longest-serving member of Congress in history — but first we have to get to the important stuff.

Dingell wants to know how I've been shooting. Then he sates his appetite for conversation about guns and hunting with a tour of the paintings and stuffed birds that are just as prevalent on his walls as the photographs of him with decades of dignitaries.

Fine by me. He taught me to shoot a shotgun, and we've spent many hours banging away at targets.

I was in the blind with him two years ago on the Chesapeake Bay when he shot his last duck. He had been sitting quietly for hours, watching birds cross in front and soar overhead without firing his gun. Then a duck came flying in fast and low, Dingell stood up, mounted his gun and dropped it right in front of the blind, then eased back down.

He took three shots and bagged three birds.

I tell that only to convey what I feel is John Dingell's most admirable trait — balance.

For nearly six decades, he's been one of Washington's most powerful and prolific policymakers. But he is not a political animal. He can talk for hours about hunting, history and other subjects and never mention politics.

He loves the Congress, but not singularly. He has other passions, most notably the woman he calls "the lovely Deborah," my frequent sparring partner Debbie Dingell.

And, of course, hunting. Dingell started his work life as a National Park ranger in the Rocky Mountains, and would have been content spending his career outdoors.

The balance is what allows Dingell, a New Deal, Great Society liberal, to bond with an old-school conservative like me — and so many others on the opposite side of the aisle who proudly call him a friend.

He's a political gentleman, capable of civilly disagreeing without being disagreeable. We are at odds on many issues, but we can still talk about them without digging into bunkers and lobbing grenades.

Dingell is just as easy and humble with those who agree with him as with those who don't.

That's a lost art today. We tend to surround ourselves with like-minded people, avoiding those who don't share our views. It's comfortable, but a lot less stimulating.

I've never had Dingell try to press his opinions on me. The man who has been a confidante of presidents and dined with kings will ask a dozen questions of you before offering a single observation himself.

In the duck blind, if we happen to shoot at the same bird and it falls, Dingell always looks over and says, "Nice shot," though both of us know it was him who brought it down.

That's who he is — he'd rather you feel good than take the credit he earned.

He's been a straight shooter in Congress for 57 years. He's made a lot of friends and quite a few enemies, but I doubt he's ever left anyone feeling disrespected or misused.

He quotes his father, whom he replaced in Congress in 1956, in saying it's not important how long you serve, but how well. John Dingell has served very long, and very well.

nfinley@detroitnews.com

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