Media outlets across the nation called Southwest Washington’s most recent congressional race a major upset.
Two political rookies sought the seat held by Jaime Herrera Buetler, R-Battle Ground, for 12 years. The district encompasses all of Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Pacific, Skamania and Wahkiakum counties, plus a slice of South Thurston. To earn the seat, Skamania County-based Democratic candidate Marie Gluesenkamp Perez topped Trump-backed Republican Joe Kent, scraping out ahead in just Pacific and Clark counties.
This week marked 100 days in office for Gluesenkamp Perez. During a town hall event on Wednesday, May 3, at Centralia College, the freshman congresswoman aimed to prove she’s tuned in to issues affecting residents throughout Southwest Washington — not just those of the Vancouver voters who helped ensure her victory.
Gluesenkamp Perez spoke about her time in the Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of representatives who can only join if they bring one cohort from the opposite side of the aisle. She said she has, so far, been encouraged to see that when the TV news cameras are off, most of her colleagues can engage in civil, practical discourse on big issues.
Also to highlight her bipartisan focus, she said she’s had Republicans sign on to each one of the bills she’s introduced, most of which have been focused on right-to-repair legislation.
A mother who co-owns an auto repair shop with her husband, Dean, Gluesenkamp Perez hails from a county of 12,000 people, a one-man newspaper, an insane amount of trees and Mount St. Helens. As such, she’s aiming to fight what she sees as “elitism” in the modern Democratic Party, and Congress in general.
“It’s definitely a gift to be tied into your community. You can get out of the rat race — you don’t enter the rat race,” Gluesenkamp Perez said in an interview after the town hall. “That’s why it’s so important that I’m out here and I’m talking to people and I’m hearing, not what gets filtered through, like, a consultant team or the national parties, but what people actually are talking about.”
In Wednesday’s event, constituents proved her right: While some issues intersected with national politics, the questions mostly focused on home. Attendees filled out questions at the beginning of the event on paper, which were then sorted out by her staff for duplicates and to note themes of importance.
One asked how she’s addressing seals and sea lions on the Columbia River.
Gluesenkamp Perez chimed in, “And the Cowlitz now!” before discussing funding requests for lethal and non-lethal deterrent methods.
Another asked how she’s advocating for veterans, she spoke about struggles with the Veterans Affairs Office, saying the South Puget Sound VA has proven to be problematic in a unique way, but that she’s been working with a nonprofit in Chehalis to increase access to health care in rural parts of the region.
One question touched on broadband infrastructure, and Gluesenkamp Perez shared how the issue affects her personally. She said she’s been supportive of USDA grants and local efforts.
“I am the only member of Congress that does not have broadband internet at home. I get my internet from a radio tower,” Gluesenkamp Perez said to the crowd Wednesday, later quipping, “More members of Congress need to not have internet at home.”
She told The Reflector later she was surprised not to receive a question on assault weapons. Gov. Jay Inslee recently signed a law banning the distribution, creation and sale of more than 50 firearms considered to be assault weapons. During that follow-up interview, Gluesenkamp Perez said gun violence is a tragic “waste of lives” that should remain in the forefront of the discussion, but, “Washington’s Constitution is very clear on this. … Other states who are thinking about this are going to watch this play out in our courts.”
The district she was elected to represent, she said, values the freedom to bear arms “as protected by the Second Amendment.” She called raising the purchasing age for firearms a “pragmatic” solution to be considered.
The congresswoman did see a few curveballs, though, including one question detailing a granddaughter who works as a border patrol agent and had been targeted by cartels.
They asked, “Do you believe we need to do more to control our borders or do you still believe those of us who want our borders properly controlled are racist?”
She responded, “Absolutely not,” later adding, “We’ve got to get numbers up, we’ve got to have an adequately-staffed border. Labor shortages are happening everywhere.”
However, her main concern with border security, she said, is that drug potency has made security less about manpower and more about technology. The amount of fentanyl needed for every lethal overdose in the U.S. last year, Gluesenkamp Perez claimed, would fit into an average baking soda box.
She’s not too far off, either. According to the CDC, about 107,000 people died of drug overdose in America last year and 3 milligrams is considered one lethal dose (doses smaller than that can also be lethal). So, for 107,000 deaths, it would take about 11 ounces — just a bit larger than a box of baking soda.
“I’ve signed onto funding requests and bills recently supporting increased technological deployment (at the border),” Gluesenkamp Perez said. “Basically laser-scanning that you can deploy now to look inside packaging, to look inside cars.”
The crowd’s final question for her on Wednesday was to name the Republican House member she admires most and why. The audience laughed, but she listed three: Idaho’s Rep. Fulcher, North Carolina’s Virginia Foxx and her neighbor in Washington, Dan Newhouse.
“He’s candid,” Gluesenkamp Perez said. “He’s been a great partner.”
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