When John Dingell leaves Congress at the end of this term, Michigan will lose its most effective and passionate champion in Washington. Dingell, who announced his retirement Monday, will have spent 59 years in Congress, longer than anyone in United States history. But itís not the length of his service that is so remarkable, itís the quality of the service he gave his people.
Dingell, 87, has been among the most powerful and influential members of Congress.
And yet heís never forgotten that it was the people of his Downriver district who sent him to Washington, and that his purpose there is to represent them.
Heís done that remarkably well. Dingell has been the automobile industryís most effective champion, recognizing how vital automotive jobs are to the well-being of his district and to the state. Dingellís efforts were invaluable in putting together the federal governmentís rescue of General Motors and Chrysler after the economic meltdown in 2008.
While fighting to keep automobile factories open, Dingell is also responsible for some of the most important environmental legislation, including the Clean Air and Clean Water acts. He was also an early advocate of food and drug safety laws.
An avid hunter and outdoorsman, Dingell continues to dedicate himself to setting aside preserves and parks where wildlife can flourish. One of his signature accomplishments is the still-growing international preserve along the Detroit River.
He has never been blown by political winds. Dingell risked his career in the early 1960s when he helped push through key civil rights legislation, which triggered some of his toughest re-election fights.
He is also persistent. He introduced a health care bill at the start of each congressional session beginning in 1961, carrying on a tradition began by his father, who held the seat before him.
When the Affordable Care Act passed in 2010, Dingell dedicated his vote to his dad.
Had John Dingell been allowed by his Democratic colleagues to play a larger role in guiding Obamacare through Congress, its implementation would have almost certainly gone smoother.
The son of a New Deal congressman, Dingell is a holdover from the days when Republicans and Democrats could actually reach consensus in Congress, even on the toughest of issues.
As Democratic chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee, he insisted that all legislation that passed out of his committee do so with Republican votes, even if it took extraordinary effort to reach a compromise.
The bitterness and acrimony of todayís political climate, as well as the refusal by lawmakers to govern in the middle, is one of the reasons Dingell cited in deciding to call it quits. Obviously, his age and health also factored into his decision.
Thereís little doubt that had Dingell decided to seek re-election, his district would have returned him to Washington, as they have 28 times since he won a special election to Congress in 1955 following his fatherís death.
That long undefeated streak speaks of citizens satisfied with their representative.
Even his most ardent political opponents acknowledge his integrity and his commitment to duty.
John Dingell has helped make his district, Michigan and the nation a better place. Heíll be missed in Washington.
We wish him well in whatever endeavor he undertakes next.