Jaime Herrera Beutler reflects on service, wins for district


Calling Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for over a decade, one might expect the background droll of congressional staff or the muttering of corporate lobbyists.

This was not the case recently. Instead, background — sometimes foreground — noise consisted of children singing.

“They just watched The Lion King for the first time and they’re singing those songs, on and on, at the top of their lungs,” Herrera Beutler told The Reflector with a laugh.

A 44-year-old Battle Ground resident, Herrera Beutler’s journey to motherhood is a story itself, a battle she fought as hard as any in Congress. But, while motherhood lasts, the loss in her most recent bid for reelection meant the Republican congresswoman had just days remaining in her role. As the new year approached, she reflected on her career so far: wins at home, lessons learned and the “fierce” independent spirit she loves in the people of Southwest Washington — the same independence she admits got her into trouble at times.

A pollster’s equation

After the events of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Herrera Beutler was one of just 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach then-president Donald Trump. She released a statement at the time recognizing the impeachment vote could “alienate Republican voters,” but finished saying the party would be best served “when those among us choose truth.”

While the vote endeared her to some, it also gave rise to the candidate who would oust her from the primary in August: Joe Kent, R-Yacolt, who described himself as not minding being called “far-right” in a previous interview with The Reflector.

Despite Trump’s stamp of approval, Kent lost to Skamania County Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, much to the surprise of pollsters and news outlets. Even The New York Times called Kent “likely” to win.

But if you ask Herrera Beutler, the district is nuanced beyond what polling equations can fathom.

She was raised in the area after being born in California. Asked why she stayed, Herrera Beutler said it was in part due to the region’s wealth of natural beauty, including the Pacific Ocean and Cascades. Moreso, though, it was a passionate community.

“That pioneering spirit is very much alive and well here,” Herrera Beutler said.

As an example, she illustrated a memory from the 2007 Chehalis River flood: “FEMA had come and set up these tents and wanted to serve food and take care of everybody. And the FEMA people were beside themselves like, ‘Nobody’s coming to the tents.’ And we all chuckled. … We’re like, ‘Yeah, because they’re all helping their neighbors muck out their homes. Nobody is going to sit there and wait for the federal government to serve them.’”

After moving from the state Legislature to Congress in 2011, the Washington Republican said her main goal as a representative was to solve problems for constituents, whether that meant flexing her title with the right agency or connecting residents to the next person who could help.

“I never started a meeting in my office or with a constituent like, ‘I’m Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler.’ The only time I’ve ever done that is with bureaucrats. … It’s important not for your own self-promotion, it’s important so they understand that you understand you’re not speaking for yourself. You’re speaking for 750,000 people, and you will do everything you can to draw attention to this issue.”

Herrera Beutler recounted at times using her title “as a hammer,” including when fighting to increase Veterans Affairs (VA) services in Southwest Washington.

“The biggest challenge, it seemed like, was connecting the dots for the veterans, which generally meant helping them jump through hoops and check off boxes that the VA was putting in front of them,” she said.

Through months of letters and emails back and forth, the congresswoman helped establish Mobile Medical Units in Lewis and Pacific counties through the VA Puget Sound. One day, Herrera Beutler said she received an accidentally-forwarded email from VA staff pleading for help to “get the congresswoman off our backs.”

She felt this was reminiscent of her goal when first being elected to Congress.

“Do not take ‘no’ for an answer. So when a constituent comes to us and they need help with something, it feels like oftentimes an agency’s first response is ‘no.’ So our job is to get people to ‘yes,’” Herrera Beutler said, later adding, “99% of the time you can get to ‘yes’ if you’re willing to follow up and follow up again.”

What’s next?

Asked where the district has room for growth and issues she hopes her successor will focus on, Herrera Beutler keyed in on crime, border security and forest health.

Lambasting police reform laws passed by the state Legislature in 2021, she referred to law enforcement officers in Washington as being essentially handcuffed.

She spoke about a recent visit to the country’s southern border, calling it a “humanitarian crisis” that she said has allowed drugs, namely fentanyl, to travel up the Interstate 5 corridor. With those police reform laws in place and a recent state Supreme Court decision on drug possession,  Herrera Beutler said she felt the region’s rules have attracted more crime.

Herrera Beutler said she based her opinions on the issue from a “listening tour” with the Joint Narcotics Task Force, based in Centralia, and a similar group based in Vancouver along with other law enforcement departments across her district. She added hope that Gluesenkamp Perez would be willing to do the same once sworn in.

“I’m one of those who believes in fair, legal immigration. … I support that. The problem is it’s not being enforced at all,” Herrera Beutler said.

She also expressed hope Gluesenkamp Perez would focus on finding a balance between economic and environmental health related to forests in rural counties. Supporting a conscientious logging industry, navigable forest service roads and preventing wildfires were all issues Herrera Beutler named as challenges facing the district. So far, the congresswoman said she was encouraged by her successor’s action on this issue.

Between the two, with the help of U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, legislation recently passed to shift acreage from the possession of the U.S. Forest Service to Skamania County, which Herrera Beutler called her “cherry on top” of her term.

“I’m hopeful (because) our new representative and I talked about some of this. I think she will turn her attention to getting our forests healthy again,” she said.

As for personal opportunities, Herrera Beutler said she’s unsure of what will come next.

For the 3rd District’s future, she tempered her concerns with hope. In terms of growth potential, wealth of natural resources, trade ability and collaborative communities, Herrera Beutler said, “I honestly see nothing but opportunity. We do have to take the opportunity and make something of it.”