I don’t remember when I first met Dave Obey. Probably 1973, when he was a junior Member of Congress, and I came to Washington from the University of Wisconsin to do research for my Ph.D. dissertation on Congress and foreign policy. Dave had recently completed a degree from the same political science department. In my ensuing 17-year career with the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I got to know Dave a little bit—although as is usually the case, our relationship was mostly through staff. In fact, I was as likely to run into him personally at the Birchmere, a local bluegrass venue, as I was on the Hill. (Dave formed, and plays a mean harmonica for, The Capitol Offenses, a bluegrass group comprised of some of his musician friends, colleagues, and staff. The very name of the group perfectly captures the personality for which he will be remembered.)
Dave announced his retirement Wednesday, with a statement that reflects the quintessential Dave Obey. Reading through it, I was reminded of the work that his staff and I did together in the 1980s to try to forge a more constructive U.S. relationship with Central America and to end the wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua, and also to redirect U.S. foreign assistance away from support for right-wing regimes and toward economic development. He was such a stalwart. Whatever success we achieved would not have happened without him.