SOUTHGATE, Mich. (AP) — Rep. John Dingell, who played a key role in some of the biggest liberal legislative victories of the past 60 years, said Monday that he won't try to add to what is already the longest congressional career in history.
The Michigan Democrat, who was elected to his late father's seat in 1955 and has held it ever since, announced his decision while addressing a chamber of commerce in Southgate, near Detroit. Afterward, he told reporters that he won't run for a 30th full term because he couldn't have lived up to his own standards.
"I don't want people to be sorry for me. ... I don't want to be going out feet-first and I don't want to do less than an adequate job," the 87-year-old Dingell said. During his speech, he also lamented how "rancorous" and "divided" Congress has become, saying that it's not why he's leaving, but that it's time to "enjoy a little bit of peace and quiet."
Dingell fueled speculation that his 60-year-old wife, Debbie Dingell, who was at the event, might run for his seat, saying she would have his vote if she does. She repeatedly deflected questions about whether she would run, saying she would only talk about her husband.
Dingell became the longest-serving member of Congress in history in June when he broke the record held by the late Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia.
As a congressional page, years before he took over his father's seat, Dingell watched firsthand as President Franklin D. Roosevelt called on Congress to declare war on Japan in his "Day of Infamy" address.
Dingell said one of his most fulfilling, but also politically dangerous, moments came when he supported the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which eliminated unequal voter registration requirements and outlawed racial segregation in schools, workplaces and public areas.
"Damn near lost an election over it," Dingell told The Associated Press shortly before breaking Byrd's record last year. "The Wall Street Journal gave me a one in 15 chance of winning that race."
As he gradually acquired seniority and clout, Dingell played a key role in the creation of the Medicare program in 1965, and wrote the 1970 National Environmental Policy Act and the 1973 Endangered Species Act.
One of his proudest moments came in 2010, when he sat next to President Barack Obama as Obama signed into law the federal health care overhaul. Dingell had introduced a universal health care coverage bill in each of his terms.
He has also carefully protected his state's priorities — helping secure bailout funds for the auto industry and angering environmentalists by fending off pressure for tougher emission standards. His hometown, the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, was home to a Ford Motor Co. factory that was once the largest in the world.
He also counts among his accomplishments helping to establish and expand the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge southwest of Detroit in an area dubbed "Downriver"— known more for its industry than its natural beauty.
Dubbed "Big John" for his imposing 6-foot-3 frame and sometimes intimidating manner, a reputation bolstered by the wild game heads decorating his Washington office, Dingell has served with every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower — 11 presidents in all.
Dingell often has used his dry wit to amuse his friends and sting opponents. Even when he was in a hospital in 2003 following an operation to open a blocked artery, he maintained his humor.
"I'm happy to inform the Republican leadership that I fully intend to be present to vote against their harmful and shameless tax giveaway package," he said from the hospital.
From 1981 to 1994, Dingell served as chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees industries from banking and energy to health care and the environment. He also led its investigative arm, earning a reputation as a dogged pursuer of government waste and fraud and helping take down two top presidential aides.
Dingell's critics called him overpowering and intimidating. And the head of a 500-pound wild boar looking at visitors to his Washington office only boosted that reputation, as did the story behind it: Dingell is said to have felled the animal with a pistol as it charged him during a hunting trip in Soviet Georgia.
Yet the avid hunter and sportsman, whose office was decorated with big game trophies, was hard to typecast. He also loved classical music and ballet — his first date with his wife, Debbie, a prominent Democratic activist whom he affectionately introduced as "the lovely Deborah," was a ballet performance.
Born in Colorado Springs, Colo., on July 8, 1926, John David Dingell Jr. grew up in Michigan, where his father was elected to Congress as a "New Deal" Democrat in 1932. After a brief stint in the Army near the end of World War II, the younger Dingell earned his bachelor's and law degrees from Georgetown University.
Following the sudden death of his father in September 1955, Dingell, then a 29-year-old attorney, won a special election to succeed him.
Associated Press writers Ken Thomas and Henry C. Jackson in Washington contributed to this report. Eggert reported from Lansing.