​​Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez on world conflicts and hopelessness at home


Editor’s Note: Columnist Julie McDonald previously wrote a three-part series based on an interview with Republican congressional candidate Joe Kent. That series, and the first two parts of her interview with Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, can be found at thereflector.com.

As fighting erupted in the Middle East, Republican congressional candidate Joe Kent on his Facebook page accused his Democratic opponent, Third District U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, of “taking money from pro-Hamas, anti-Israel (Seventh District Washington U.S. Rep.) Pramila Jayapal.”

“I  call on Marie to return the money she received and to explain to the people of our district why she voted against supporting Israel after the 7 October terrorist attack,” Kent posted.

During an interview in Kelso earlier this month, the congresswoman answered Kent’s question about voting against $14 billion in aid for Israel.

“They tied cuts in the IRS budget to funding for Israel,” Gluesenkamp Perez said. “Once you start that — oh, give us this party favor or we won’t fund our allies — you have detonated your geopolitical allies and reputation durably. That is a terrible strategy. You fund it or don’t want to fund it on its merits. Don’t condition funding on (a) political party.”

The Hamas attack on Israel in October was “one of the best Christmas presents” to Russian President Vladimir Putin, she said. It silenced social media on the nearly two-year-old Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Was it a conspiracy?

“It’s hard for me to believe that it was such a happy coincidence,” Gluesenkamp Perez said. “I think Russia’s interests were very heavily advanced by Hamas’ disgusting success in the terrorist attacks in Israel.”

While expressing sorrow over civilian casualties, she said Israel has a right to defend itself.

“It makes me sick to hear all these old men without babies talking about babies getting killed,” Gluesenkamp Perez said. “I’m like, when is the last time you changed a diaper? This is an abstraction to you.”

The United States doesn’t have unilateral authority to order a ceasefire by Israel, Gluesenkamp Perez said, especially when “it’s just been the victim of a heinous terrorist attack.”

Jews have lived in Israel for centuries, she said, noting she grew up reading the Bible. The United States must honor its commitments to allies while upholding the values of humanity.

Was Israel’s response too aggressive?

“I’m just going to be very candid,” Gluesenkamp Perez said. “I did not run for office to resolve peace in the Middle East. I have an obligation to reflect the values and interests of my district to fix the things that I can make progress on. I am not an expert in the Middle East. And the experts don’t agree.

“I ran for Congress to get a right-to-repair bill passed, to get our woods working again, to try to build a political body that represents normal people,” she said. “What our enemies want is to divide us and get us wrapped around issues that distract us from making real progress in unity at home. I think our democracy really is under threat here.”


Democracy under threat

While many see the crisis on America’s southern border as the greatest threat to democracy, for Gluesenkamp Perez, it’s closer to home.

“I actually think the biggest driver of threat is more economic,” she said. “When people are working three jobs to make rent, they’re not engaged in civil discourse in the way the democracy demands. You don’t have hope of being able to afford to have a family or own a home.”

Young men are committing suicide at unprecedented rates, she said.

“Things are really collapsing at home,” Gluesenkamp Perez said. “People are losing hope, and, like, that’s when democracies collapse. When people don’t have hope, they turn to authoritarianism. And when you don’t have community, you choose bureaucracy.”

People who don’t trust their neighbors demand regulation.

“Can a 17-year-old today in shop class in Cowlitz County go out and, like, start a real business and be successful and make a path for themselves?” Gluesenkamp Perez asked. “We’ve got to get our house in order.”

She noted some answers lie more in cultural changes — unplugging the younger generation influenced by foreign algorithms — which can’t be legislated.

And immigrants entering America illegally is a big problem, Perez said, although she recently took heat for saying “nobody stays awake at night worrying about the southern border.”

“We’ve got to have a secure border,” Gluesenkamp Perez said. “We have to know who’s coming in and who’s going out. And we have to have a system that works.”

Although he has denied it, Gluesenkamp Perez said Kent supported a 20-year ban on immigration. She said farmers, foresters and others rely on migrant labor. While larger commercial farms have the administrative capability to fill out complex forms to bring in guest workers, she said smaller family farms don’t.

“We need predictability,” she said. “We need flexibility. We unquestionably need more capacity for processing visa applications.”

The federal government makes it difficult for small farmers, businesses and governments to succeed, she said.

“Anybody that’s ever tried to get federal dollars will tell you that it’s pretty damn well impossible if you haven’t paid a consultant to do it for you,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.

She worked with conservative Republican Rep. Virginia Foxx of North Carolina’s Fifth District to introduce a bill to simplify grant applications.

What about construction of the Trump wall?

“Not much of what we’ve done has worked so far,” Gluesenkamp Perez said. “I think we need to be flexible and creative.”

Answers so far resemble a Band-Aid, she said.

“You have to get at the systemic reasons why this is happening — poverty and violence but also the fact that people hire coyotes and illegal human traffickers.”

The United States is a nation of immigrants. But today people spend decades on waitlists, she said.

“We want people that come here that are self-starters and are here to work hard, not people that just happen to have the financial resources or political connections to navigate it. Part of what has made America strong in the past is that the people that immigrated were the ones that had the initiative and the gumption. If we just create a system where the privileged make it through, we’re going to change the makeup of who’s coming here.”

She described it as more a political issue than anything.

“It feels like people are just trying to fundraise off this issue all the time and get people scared. You can’t talk people out of their feelings with facts, and I think that what is unquestionably true is that fentanyl is hollowing out our communities. It is epidemic. And we’ve got to get it under control.”

Components for much of the fentanyl come from China but are synthesized in Mexico, she said.

“All the fentanyl it would have taken to kill everyone who died from an overdose in 2021 would fit inside of your average baking soda box. That’s how potent it is.”

While policymakers can address the permeability of the border, Gluesenkamp Perez said, social and cultural changes are needed to address why so many people turn to drugs. She contends it’s hopelessness, “a belief that you can’t get what you really need so you get what you want.”

A second term?

Despite making plenty of headlines and holding more than 700 votes, Congress passed only 27 bills through both chambers in 2023 — and two were sponsored by Gluesenkamp Perez. One was the Treating Tribes and Counties as Good Neighbors Act to increase lands eligible for forest management efforts and the other was the Protecting Moms and Infants Reauthorization Act to help pregnant and postpartum women with substance abuse disorders access help.

She said her record speaks for itself as she introduced 30 bipartisan bills, 12 of which passed the House. Of her more than 700 votes, she said 77 percent were bipartisan.

She lobbied for $600 million for the I-5 Bridge Replacement Project between Vancouver and Portland, $40 million for an underpass in Washougal, $24 million for infrastructure for the Shoalwater Bay Tribe, $24 million for rural broadband in Lewis County and $1 billion for green hydrogen production, including the proposed Centralia project.

Why should conservatives support her?

“We will not always agree on the issues, but I have worked diligently to be present and available and accountable,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.

After interviewing Kent last summer, I sent several requests asking Gluesenkamp Perez for an interview, including via Facebook. I never received a response, so I asked why. Gluesenkamp Perez said they’re careful to avoid mixing her congressional job and taxpayer dollars with her re-election campaign. But a response from her office — even a no — would have been nice. After the interview, Dominick Sokotoff, her digital manager and press assistant, said her best contact is gluesenkampperez.house.gov/contact.

“I have one of the fastest rates of replies for constituent letters in the House of Representatives,” she said. “The average is 35 days, and mine is 14 right now. You write me, I will write back.”

Kent criticized Gluesenkamp Perez’s predecessor, Rep. Jaime Hererra-Beutler, for going six years without holding in-person town halls. However, five days after Hererra-Beutler assumed her role as Third District congresswoman in January 2011, a colleague — Arizona’s Eighth District U.S. Rep. Gabby Giffords — was shot in the head while meeting with constituents and nearly died.

Since taking office in January 2023, Gluesenkamp Perez said she has helped 849 residents, recovered $701,936 for constituents, and sent more than 59,076 responses to calls, emails and letters. She held 11 in-person town halls and 454 meetings with constituents, leaders and others — 229 in Southwest Washington and 225 in Washington, D.C.

I asked the congresswoman if she worries about her safety.

“It’s something that we consider, but I think that you engender a lot more rage when you don’t show up,” she said. “You have to show up and let people yell at you.”

But, she quickly added with a grin, “Please don’t consider this an invitation to scream at me.”

Gluesenkamp Perez said she’s not a career politician. Her son attends daycare three days a week, and when she’s in Washington, D.C., her parents stay in their home and watch him. If she loses her re-election bid in November, she said, she’ll simply go back to working in the family’s auto repair shop.


— Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at memoirs@chaptersoflife.com.