Congressman John Dingell To (Finally) Retire

John Dingell

John Dingell, who has served in Congress longer than any other person in American history, announced this morning that he w0uld not be standing for re-election in 2014:

Rep. John Dingell is leaving the Congress he’s served for longer than anyone else in United States history.

At a luncheon Monday in his beloved Downriver, the Dearborn representative says he will announce he won’t seek re-election this fall to the seat he’s held since 1955.

“I’m not going to be carried out feet first,” says Dingell, who will be 88 in July. “I don’t want people to say I stayed too long.”

Dingell says his health “is good enough that I could have done it again. My doctor says I’m OK. And I’m still as smart and capable as anyone on the Hill.

“But I’m not certain I would have been able to serve out the two-year term.”

More than health concerns, Dingell says a disillusionment with the institution drove his decision to retire.

“I find serving in the House to be obnoxious,” he says. “It’s become very hard because of the acrimony and bitterness, both in Congress and in the streets.”

That’s a jarring assessment from a man who last summer surpassed the late West Virgina Sen. Robert Byrd as the longest-serving member of Congress.

But he says poisonous partisanship and a growing disregard for serving the interests of the people have taken the joy out of the job.

“This is not the Congress I know and love,” he says. “It’s hard for me to accept, but it’s time to cash it in.”

The question now becomes who will succeed Dingell. He won the seat at age 29 after the death of his father, a Depression-era New Dealer who served the district for 20 years.

An open congressional seat draws lots of interest. It’s no secret the congressman would like to see the Dingell tenure continue. While she won’t announce her candidacy Monday, his wife of 38 years, Debbie, a Democratic National Committee member and former General Motors executive, will almost certainly run.

“We’ve accomplished a lot together,” Dingell says. “I couldn’t have done it without her. She’s been my guide, my counsel, my friend and my closest adviser.”

It wouldn’t be too surprising if Dingell tried to shove his wife in as his successor. Such a move would be entirely consistent with the fact that he succeeded his father in the House and that, since 1932, what is essentially the same House seat in Michigan has been held by someone with the last name Dingell. Why not continue with the tradition? As I noted when Dingell set his less than admirable record, though, it seems clear that there comes a time when every member of Congress outlives his welcome. Nearly six decades was too long for John Dingell Jr., and more than 80 years has been way too long for a Dingell family that seems to think it is entitled to a seat in Congress. In additi0n to term limits that would make the kind of record that Dingell set impossible in the future, we need an end to the kind of nepotism that he represents.

FILED UNDER: 2014 Election, Congress, US Politics, , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Peacewood says:

    Term limits?

    Dude, the 90s are dead. They’re so dead that not even the Spice Girls can do a reunion.

  2. stonetools says:

    Republicans believed in term limits till they were elected and became a majority. Seconds later, they abandoned all talk of term limits.
    Constiutuents of John Dingell Jr. kept electing him.Was it because they thought he represnted them well? It’s certainly the likeliest reason.
    If you hav e a problem with long serving Congressional representatives, the solution isn’t term limits. It’sreforms like increasing the number of districts, having a bipartisan commission redraw the district lines, or maybe different types of voting schemes, like cumulative voting or proportional represntation. Good luck on getting any such reforms through this Congress, which has gerrymandered the districts to where they want it to be.

  3. PJ says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    In additi0n to term limits that would make the kind of record that Dingell set impossible in the future, we need an end to the kind of nepotism that he represents.

    While I really don’t like to vote for the son of X, the daughter of X, the wife of X, the husband of X, etc, why should they not be allowed to run for office just because they are related to X? Should the ex-wife/husband of X be allowed to run for office? The grandchild of X? The grand-grandchild of X?

    To put it simple, let the voters decide if they want to elect a relative of X or not.

  4. Pinky says:

    Debbie is younger than him. so this will bring in new blood. Considerably younger. They married in 1981, when he was 55 and she was 27. (She was 1 when he first took office.) Washington is a creepy town, populated by ugly old men and attractive young women. This kind of age difference happens a lot.

  5. Tano says:

    Would you care to elaborate?

    John Dingell is my congressman, and he is an excellent one. Despite his age and length of service, he has performed the duties of his office to the satisfaction of an overwhelming majority of his constituents.

    Sorry to be blunt, but it strikes me as profound stupidity for someone from the outside to step into this situation and declare that this should not be. That for some totally artificial, made-up reason, we the voters of his district should be forbidden from sending him back to DC.

    There is a reason that the anti-government crazies are the ones who usually are pushing term limits. They desperately want government to fail at whatever it attempts to do, because their ideology cannot conceive of a group of representatives, duly elected by the people, coming together to solve problems and enhance the public good. The very existence of competent representatives sends them searching for some mechanism by which to neuter them.

    The people retain the right to form their own judgements about how well or how badly someone represents their interests in Washington – its called an election. The only purpose that term limits could possibly serve is to prevent the election of someone who the people wish to see elected. It is a sabotage to democracy, usually pushed by those who explicitly want government to fail.
    What is your reason?

  6. SKI says:

    All term limits do is limit the choice of voters. I wonder how Doug reconciles his libertarian views with this paternalistic demand for term limits.

    Oh, wait. No I don’t…

  7. grewgills says:

    we need an end to the kind of nepotism that he represents

    How many times do you have to be reelected for it to no longer be nepotism. He’s been in office over 50 years. Most of the people that voted him in to his last several terms probably know next to nothing about his father.

  8. Tano says:

    Nepotism means the granting of favors to relatives.
    John Dingell was sent to Washington by the voters, not by his father.
    If his wife succeeds him in office, it will be because the voters send her there, not because he has appointed her.

    It is simply lazy, inflammatory rhetoric to refer to these type of situations as nepotism. There is nothing inherently wrong with the relative of an incumbent putting themselves forward as a potential successor. Nor is there anything wrong with the incumbent endorsing his relative. So long as the decision rests with the voters, there is no problem.

  9. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Nearly six decades was too long for John Dingell Jr., and more than 80 years has been way too long for a Dingell family that seems to think it is entitled to a seat in Congress.

    There is a congressional district in Michigan that disagrees with you Doug. And no, you don’t get a vote.

    In additi0n to term limits that would make the kind of record that Dingell set impossible in the future, we need an end to the kind of nepotism that he represents.

    Why do you hate democracy Doug? Something tells me you think the situation in Detroit is just peaches and cream! Ohhhh, if only you were governor of Michigan, then you could tell those voters who would represent them too!

  10. Remy says:

    John Dingell is an example of exactly why term limits are so stupid. Agree or disagree with him politically, you can’t dispute that Dingell did his job as a congressman. He built real expertise in the policy areas relevant to his energy and commerce committee and was substantively involved in just about every major law of the last 50 years. Congress would have been a much poorer and less effective place had Dingell been limited to 10 or 12 years.

  11. Trumwill says:

    I have actually come around on term limits. Used to be opposed to them, but am now in favor if them. Nothing close to what the Republicans were talking about in the 90’s. If you’re a good congressperson, you should be able to do it for a good long while. Just not indefinitely. So I’d favor something like 24 years. Comparatively few would be affected.

  12. PJ says:

    Btw, Doug, didn’t you give money to Rand Paul, the son of Ron Paul?

    But then, I’m unsure about what your definition of nepotism is, because, as already pointed out by others, it doesn’t seem to have much to do with the general definition of nepotism.

    Is it only “nepotism” if someone is running for the seat vacated by his or her relative?
    How about when yet another Kennedy is running for a seat in Massachusetts, even if that seat isn’t vacated by another Kennedy? Is that “nepotism” by your definition? When Hillary Clinton ran for a Senate seat in New York, was that your kind of “nepotism”?

    But I’m pretty sure that when Rand Paul, son of Ron, ran for a Senate seat in Kentucky, then that wasn’t “nepotism” according to your definition…

  13. JWH says:

    “This is not the same House that I served in,” Dingell said. “Ever since Samuel Morse invented the telegram, this place has gone downhill.”