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Visclosky to retire at conclusion of his 18th term representing NWI

Visclosky to retire at conclusion of his 18th term representing NWI


U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, was hailed as a transformational leader Wednesday after he announced he will not seek reelection to the U.S. House of Representatives next year, choosing to bring an 18-term tenure representing Northwest Indiana to a close in early 2021.

Visclosky, 70, did not give a specific reason for his decision in the surprise announcement, which came on the 35th anniversary of his initial election to Congress on Nov. 6, 1984.

He instead recalled the work he's done in the federal government to support the domestic steel industry and organized labor, secure investments in projects such as the South Shore Line, and improve quality of place "to benefit the only place I have ever called home."

"For the last 35 years our office has vigorously advocated on behalf of thousands of constituents for assistance on any number of local, state and federal issues," Visclosky said. "While we could never guarantee positive results, we could guarantee our hard work and best efforts."

Bipartisan praise

Gov. Eric Holcomb called Visclosky "a transformational Hoosier figure throughout all of Indiana, with influence beyond his district."

"For decades, Pete has delivered," the Republican governor continued. "Just during my tenure, he led the charge to secure funding for double tracking the South Shore Line and the West Lake Corridor expansion, as well as pushing our state’s first national park, to name only a few. He’s been an effective partner for our state to have in Washington. You don’t replace a guy like Pete, you just applaud his patriotic service and wish him well into this next chapter in his life.”

Indiana Democratic Party Chairman John Zody called Visclosky "an institution."

“In every corner of the district, Pete fought for working families," Zody said. "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."

U.S. Sen. Todd Young, R-Indiana, continued the bipartisan praise.

“Congressman Visclosky has been a tireless advocate for Hoosiers in Northwest Indiana for the last 35 years. His list of accomplishments is long, and his impact will be felt for years to come," Indiana's senior senator said. "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."

Region impact

"Rep. Visclosky never forgot where he came from and never lost touch with his steel town roots," USW International President Tom Conway said. "He has been a tenacious voice for fairness in the global steel trade, a staunch supporter of the rights of workers, and a champion of the forgotten families and manufacturing communities across the United States. Pete has also been a great friend to the lakeshore community and the preservation of the unique ecology of the Region. We thank him for his service and wish him nothing but the best. His will be big shoes to fill."

Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority President and CEO Bill Hanna has worked with Visclosky on initiatives including the Marquette Plan and the South Shore Line projects.

"I've always been extremely impressed with his drive and focus and desire to help the Region," Hanna said. "We've been privileged to have him representing us for years."

Hanna said Visclosky's respected position among his colleagues and his ability to establish himself as a leader — particularly in his current chairmanship of the Committee on Appropriations' subcommittee on defense and his leadership role in the Congressional Steel Caucus — have provided Northwest Indiana an opportunity most districts don't get.

Hanna said the South Shore projects are well-poised to receive the federal grants necessary for their completion. Officials involved in the projects hope to enter final negotiations with the Federal Transit Administration next year.

"I think we're in very good stead given the amount of time he's still got and the position he's in," Hanna said of Visclosky's remaining year in office. "He's certainly finishing with a capstone, a generational project that will be here far past any of our times."

'The purpose of politics'

Visclosky, a graduate of Andrean High School, Indiana University Northwest and the University of Notre Dame, defeated incumbent U.S. Rep. Katie Hall in 1984 to earn a seat in Congress. He rose to become the third most senior Democrat in the chamber.

In the statement announcing his retirement, Visclosky noted continuing challenges.

“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.

“Too often we have blamed our 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."

Visclosky said his efforts will continue into 2021, when the 117th Congress is sworn into office.

“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.”

Visclosky did not immediately endorse any candidate to succeed him, though he did have 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. 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."

Election Day: Complete Region results

Times staff writers Dan Carden, Joseph S. Pete and Andrew Steele contributed to this report.


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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.

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