Kilmer Won’t Seek Reelection in 2024
WASHINGTON — Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-Wash., who has worked tirelessly during his years in the House to make Capitol Hill a better functioning place for members and staff alike, announced Thursday that he will not be seeking reelection in 2024.
The representative, who was first elected to the House in 2012, and who chaired the House Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress over two sessions, said his decision came down to one thing: family.
“As nourishing as this job has been, it has come with profound costs to my family,” he wrote in a statement released by his office Thursday afternoon.
“Every theatrical performance and musical recital I missed. Every family dinner that I wasn’t there for. The distance I felt from my family for months after the events of Jan. 6. I am conscious that I didn’t always deliver in the way I wanted; and hope they will forgive me for that,” he said.
Born and raised in Port Angeles, Washington, both of Kilmer’s parents were public school teachers.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in public affairs with a certificate in American studies from Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, capping his student career there by completing a 184-page senior thesis, “Recovering From the Addiction: The Social and Economic Impacts of the Pacific Northwest Timber Crisis; An Analysis of the Implementation of the Clinton Forest Plan on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula,” under the supervision of Steven R. Brechin.
He later earned a Marshall Scholarship to obtain his Ph.D. in comparative social policy from the Department of Social Policy and Intervention at Green Templeton College, Oxford.
In the private sector, Kilmer worked as a business consultant for McKinsey and Company and also served as business retention manager for the Economic Development Board for Tacoma-Pierce County, and as a member of the board of the Peninsula Schools Education Foundation.
His political career began in 2005, when he was elected to the Washington state House of Representatives, and two years later he moved on to the Washington state Senate, in which he served until coming to Congress.
“I’ve looked at life in chapters,” Kilmer said in his announcement Thursday. “I never intended for this chapter to be something I’d do for the rest of my life, and — as I shared with my kids — I’m excited to start a new chapter when my term is complete.
“It’s been an extraordinary honor to do this work — not just on behalf of my kids, [Sophie and Aven], but also on behalf of the nearly 800,000 other folks who reside in Washington’s 6th Congressional District,” he said.
Reflecting on his time leading the select committee, also known as “The Fix Congress Committee,” Kilmer said he began thinking about the dysfunction in Congress as soon as he first seriously considered running for his House seat.
“I had a fair amount of trepidation about joining an institution known for its dysfunction,” he admitted. “When I decided to run, I knew that part of my focus would be — simply put — on trying to make government work better.
“The Modernization Committee showed that Congress can do things better when folks check their partisan agendas at the door and just focus on working together,” Kilmer said.
“That group of Democrats and Republicans were, to use the words of former Secretary John Gardner, ‘loving critics’ of Congress,” he continued. “We passed over 200 proposed reforms to make Congress work better, and I’m proud that more than a quarter have already been fully implemented. I have so enjoyed working with the cohort of nonprofits, think tanks and academics who have dedicated time and energy to making government work better. Their work matters.
“I can’t think of a better way to close out my term than working with the new Fix Congress Caucus to continue the work of making Congress more functional. And when I’m outside the institution, I’ll continue doing all I can to make things better,” he said.
Kilmer also distinguished himself in Congress as a high-profile member of the New Democrat Coalition.
“My kids have heard more about the New Democrat Coalition than most Americans,” he joked in his statement, before noting how honored he’s been to be part of the group, including his serving as its chair just as the nation was gripped by the pandemic.
“The New Dems are the best kept secret in politics — a group of pragmatic, problem-solving Democrats who chase impact more than headlines. Simply put, they’re focused on getting things done for the American people. Our politics could use more of that,” he said.
Kilmer wrote movingly of his devotion to his district and his hometown.
“My upbringing — seeing the challenges facing our region — motivated my service. It’s why the core mission of my office has been to create more opportunity for more people in more places,” he said.
Kilmer also acknowledged his staff, saying the members of his team “have hearts for service and are whip smart.”
“Our crew remembers every day who they work for — the people of the 6th Congressional District. And that holds true for me, too. The work I’ve gotten to do every day was part of a contract signed by the people of the district I represent. I’ll forever be grateful for that honor,” Kilmer said.
Though he’ll be leaving after the 2024 election, Kilmer said he intends “to keep the pedal to the metal until my final minute on the job.”
“I’m a pretty young guy with more chapters in me. My plan is to ensure those chapters enable me to continue to make a positive difference. And I’d sure like to make a bit more time for those I love,” he said.
House Democratic Leader Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., lauded Kilmer in a statement, saying the congressman has “spent his career bringing people together to make life better for Washington families.”
“In Congress, Derek has been a relentless champion for areas like his hometown of Port Angeles that are facing persistent economic challenges,” Jeffries said. “A member of the Appropriations Committee, Derek has consistently delivered for communities throughout the Puget Sound region.
“Derek authored the RECOMPETE grant assistance program, and has led the charge to address underfunding for infrastructure on tribal lands and our nation’s rural hospitals,” the Democratic leader said, adding that Kilmer’s influence on and love for the people’s House will be felt long after his departure at the end of this term.
“In his four years as chair of the bipartisan Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, Derek advanced meaningful reforms to make Congress more accessible, transparent and collaborative to the benefit of members, staff and the people we are privileged to represent.
“The House Democratic Caucus will miss Derek at the conclusion of this Congress. I have been grateful to consider Derek a dear friend and colleague ever since we were both elected to the House in 2012. May the force be with him and his family in this next chapter,” Jeffries said.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, said she will miss Kilmer’s “steadfast voice and practical approach to addressing the challenges facing our nation.”
“Everything Congressman Kilmer accomplished was guided by integrity, compassion and making the people of Washington state’s lives better. He is pragmatic, data-driven and constantly searching for avenues to build consensus,” she said.
“As a member of the Defense, Energy and Water, and Interior Appropriations subcommittees, Congressman Kilmer used his experience in economic development to create opportunities for hardworking Americans, protect the environment and support national parks,” DeLauro said. “He has been a leading voice in investing in Native American tribes, securing millions of dollars in housing and basic infrastructure investments for tribal communities. Congressman Kilmer was also a critical partner in my efforts to bring back community project funding.
“From his leadership of the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress to the Bipartisan Working Group to the New Democrat Coalition, Congressman Kilmer has always been focused on progress over politics. His voice — trusted by members on both sides of the aisle — will be deeply missed,” she added.
Rep. Annie Kuster, D-N.H., the current chair of the New Democrat Coalition, also released a statement in which she called Kilmer, “a tireless advocate for Washingtonians and has served as a model of pragmatic governance, bipartisan cooperation and service to his country.”
“Throughout his career in the House, Derek has so much to be proud of. A New Dem through and through, his sober leadership as chair of our coalition helped our 100 members navigate the challenges of the twin public health and economic crises brought on by the pandemic,” Kuster said.
“Through his leadership on the Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress, he has worked across the aisle to develop more than 200 proposed reforms to make Congress work better for the American people,” she continued. “Through his steadfast commitment to economic development, Derek has helped create incredible programs like RECOMPETE, which helps to revitalize persistently distressed and disadvantaged communities across the country.
“Not only has Derek been an effective leader in Congress, he’s been an incredible friend to all, Republicans and Democrats alike. He truly has always put people ahead of politics. … We will miss Derek’s steady hand and presence on Capitol Hill.”