SEATTLE (Reuters) - U.S. Representative Norm Dicks, a Democrat from Washington state known for supporting airplane manufacturer Boeing and his region's military bases, said on Friday he will not seek reelection.

The 18-term Congressman said in a statement he and his wife, Suzie, have "made the decision to change gears and enjoy life at a different pace."

Dicks, 71, a former college football player who cut his teeth in politics as a legislative aide, serves as the ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Appropriations and the defense subcommittee.

Among his priorities in Congress has been boosting his state's economy by backing Boeing Co, which assembles wide-body commercial planes in Everett, Washington.

In February 2011, he touted the awarding of a federal contract to Boeing that he said would put 11,000 employees of the company to work building 179 air refueling tankers for the U.S. Air Force.

Chicago-based Boeing is the world's second-largest commercial planemaker behind Europe's Airbus.

Dicks has also fought for funding for Washington state military bases, including Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Naval Base Kitsap.

Washington Governor Christine Gregoire, a Democrat, said in a statement that Dicks pushed Congress to take action to benefit local military bases and Boeing.

He also has been known to take hawkish positions at times. Dicks was one of 82 House Democrats who in 2002 voted for a Republican-led resolution to authorize the war in Iraq.

Dicks made clear in his statement announcing his retirement that he will serve out his term this year.

His departure could open the way for a Republican candidate to claim Dicks' district, which covers the northwestern coast of Washington state and cities including Tacoma and Port Angeles, but not Seattle.

"My guess is he would not give up the seat unless he felt it was solidly in Democratic hands," University of Washington political science professor Peter May said.

The state's two U.S. Senators each hailed Dicks, in separate statements as a Washington state political "institution."

(Writing By Alex Dobuzinskis; Editing by Cynthia Johnston)

(Photo by Bob Nichols for USDAgov via Flickr)