GARY – In a surprise announcement Wednesday, U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Merrillville, announced that he will not seek re-election next year after serving 18 terms in Congress.
The announcement came on the anniversary of his first election victory in 1984.
“On November 6th, 35 years ago today, I was elected to serve as Indiana’s First District U.S. Representative. Today, I announce that I will not seek re-election in 2020," Visclosky said in a statement.
“For my entire career I have worked to build support for our domestic steel industry and organized labor, secure investments in transformational projects, and improve our quality of place to benefit the only place I have ever called home," the Gary native and Merrillville resident said.
“While some successes have been achieved, we still suffer from declining population – including the loss of over 15,000 school children since 2010. And far too many people lack fulfilling employment, economic opportunity and the hope for a better future. Much work remains to be done."
Visclosky, 70, is the longest-serving member of Indiana's congressional delegation and represents the First District, which includes all of Lake and Porter counties. Western and northwestern townships in La Porte County, including Michigan City and Westville, were added to the district in 2013.
He is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, chairman of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee and a member of the Energy and Water Subcommittee.
“Too often we have blamed our [district's] problems on others whether in Washington or Indianapolis. Too often a sense of urgency has been blunted by the question, ‘What’s the hurry?’ And continued systemic racism has rendered a sense of community almost impossible to achieve," the congressman said.
Visclosky is a graduate of Andrean High School in Merrillville, and later earned a Bachelor of Science in Accounting from Indiana University Northwest; a Juris Doctoris from the University of Notre Dame Law School; and a Master of Laws in International and Comparative Law from Georgetown University Law Center. He is married to Joanne Royce, and has two sons, John and Tim.
Hammond Mayor Thomas McDermott, who easily won re-election on Tuesday, is the first candidate to announce he will seek Visclosky's seat.
"Now that our local elections are over, and Congressman Pete has announced his intentions to not seek re-election, I want everyone to know that I am a candidate for this office in 2020, and that I intend to be Northwest Indiana’s next congressman," McDermott, who will be serving his fifth term as mayor, said in a Facebook post.
North Township (Lake County) Trustee Frank J. Mrvan, son of State Sen. Frank Mrvan Jr., also announced his candidacy for the seat and set up a page for supporters on Facebook.
While the congressman did not endorse a successor, he did offer some advice.
“For those who wish to serve our next generation of citizens I would encourage each to apprise us of your vision for our area and the priorities you will dedicate your attention to at the national level," he said. "Be for something and not against someone. Strive to overcome the intolerance that grips our nation and recognize that only through mutual respect, rational discourse, cooperation and fair play can we build a good and strong community and country."
Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody praised Visclosky in a statement released shortly after the announcement.
“Congressman Visclosky is an institution. In every corner of the district, Pete fought for working families. He was relentless in his pursuit of a stronger, more connected Northwest Indiana and critical infrastructure investments like the Gary/Chicago Airport and South Shore Line bear his fingerprints. Hoosier Democrats thank Congressman Visclosky for his tireless advocacy for working Hoosiers and for his service to our state," Zody said.
Even those on the other side of the aisle were complimentary.
“Congressman Visclosky has been a tireless advocate for Hoosiers in Northwest Indiana for the last 35 years," U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, said in a statement. "His list of accomplishments is long, and his impact will be felt for years to come. I’ve had the privilege to work with Pete to make Indiana Dunes our state’s first National Park, move the West Lake Corridor and South Shore Expansion projects forward, and more. I thank Pete for his service and wish him the best.”
In 1984, Visclosky ran in the Democratic primary, defeating incumbent Katie Hall and Jack Crawford in a tight race, winning with 34 percent of the vote to Hall's 33 percent and Crawford's 31 percent. He easily beat Republican Joseph Grenchik in the general election.
He won re-election In 1986, defeating Hall and three others in the primary, then took the general election with 73 percent of the vote in the strongly Democratic District. In 1990, seeking his fourth term, he again beat Hall in the primary and easily won-re-election. In the 12 elections since, he has won at least 71 percent of the vote in every primary, and at least 60 percent in all but one general election.
“I thank the citizens of the First District for their trust and for providing me the incredible life privilege of serving you in the United States Congress," Visclosky said.
“As one historian noted, Aristotle claimed the purpose of politics is not to make living together possible, but to make living well possible. I have worked very hard and to the best of my ability to achieve such a just and tolerant future. I will continue to do so until the adjournment of the 116th Congress.”
—From staff reports