Editor’s note: A profile on Republican congressional candidate Joe Kent can be found here.
Democratic candidate for the 3rd Congressional District Marie Gluesenkamp Perez cut her campaigning teeth in a race for Skamania County commissioner, where she lives just over the county line in Washougal with her 1-year-old son, Ciro, and husband, Dean.
Though she didn’t win that race, she liked it. She knocked on each of Skamania’s several thousand doors and got to know her neighbors. She listened to the issues residents cared about. She learned from her rural Washingtonian community members.
While Gluesenkamp Perez’s path from a small business owner never having held public office to congressional candidate is nontraditional, there is nothing traditional about the race to represent Washington’s 3rd Congressional District.
“This was not something I was planning on doing this year with a 1-year-old. But it’s too important to sit out. The stakes are so high,” she said in an interview with The Reflector at Dean’s Car Care in Portland, the auto repair shop she co-owns with her husband.
Gluesenkamp Perez has been motivated by the controversial nature of her opponent, Joe Kent, a Donald Trump-endorsed Clark County Republican who ousted six-term incumbent Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler in the primary.
Yet, her ambitions for the seat came before Kent’s victory.
She felt the needs of the district weren’t being adequately met. With local, family wage jobs declining, Herrera Buetler, she said, had put forward an annual job fair with 11 employers.
“It felt like political theater. It didn’t feel like really supporting families the way that they needed,” said Gluesenkamp Perez. “There’s so much dysfunction in Congress and it’s so polarized. Saying crazy stuff gets you money, it gets you attention and power. We need more people to show up. We need average people that live like the rest of America does to point the country back in the right direction.”
‘Insight into the challenges’
Gluesenkamp Perez’s parents met at Western Washington University, where her father studied as an international student from Mexico. Her mother’s family was living in Washington before it became a state.
She grew up in Texas, where her father served as a pastor. The family spent summers in Washington.
At 18, she began attending Reed College in Portland for a degree in economics, saying, “It’s a very interesting way to look at the world. People talk about their values all the time, but where you actually put your money is a really different thing.”
Her thesis was a cost-benefit analysis of the City of Portland’s curbside composting program. When residents were allowed to put food scraps in the yard debris, the federal government qualified the waste as a biohazard, making it so many small processing businesses were no longer licensed to handle the material, she said. Therefore, the compost was shipped all over the state, eventually generating more emissions than the program would have saved by composting.
“I was shocked that the City of Portland did not want to hire me,” said Gluesenkamp Perez, laughing. “They did not like that report.”
She met Dean while working as a bike mechanic. He was a mobile car mechanic who made house calls. After marriage, the two went into the auto repair business together, at first renting their space.
“Our landlord was a total basket case who would basically serve us eviction notices whenever he felt like it. Like, I remember getting a letter from him complaining about our employees belching,” she said.
Eventually, the duo was able to buy their own shop in Portland thanks to a small business loan program that Gluesenkamp Perez recalls spending a full year applying for. As co-owners of the shop, they found stability. The business now has six lifts and eight employees. Gluesenkamp Perez works mostly on the intake end, working with customers to diagnose issues.
Recognizing her desire to take things apart and solve problems, her parents encouraged her to pursue a career and technical education rather than attend college. After ending up in the trades, she smiles at the thought that her parents were right, but feels her degree has still been valuable.
In her role every day, she works as a service writer, customer service representative, human resources manager, marketing specialist and more.
“I think that has given me a better insight into the challenges facing more Americans than if I’d been at the top of a bigger corporation,” she said.
After success in the first years of business, Gluesenkamp Perez and her husband were able to build their home in Washougal.
There’ve been challenges along the way, including a miscarriage in early 2020. Still, looking back now, Gluesenkamp Perez said, “If somebody had told me how much fun it is being a parent, I probably would have done it sooner. Everyone’s like, ‘You’ll never sleep, it’s so expensive.’ But honestly, I laughed more in this last year than I have in the last five.”
Gluesenkamp Perez is seeking to flip a district that’s been red for 12 years. The Seattle Times described her as a “massive underdog.”
She’s made her case clear: “Joe Kent is an extremist,” she said in an interview with The Reflector during the Southwest Washington Fair in August.
On the other hand, she said she deeply admires Herrera Beutler, namely for the impeachment vote and her work for fishermen in the region.
“She is a real patriot who sacrificed a lot to stand by her morals and she can always be proud of that and I hope she always is,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.
Where the congresswoman fell short, she thought, was a lack of in-person town halls, saying constituents have a right to see their representatives and speak with them.
If there were three teams in the primary election representing Herrera Beutler, Kent and Glusenkamp Perez, the question now is where the votes for the incumbent will be cast. While it’s more complicated in actuality, the Washougal Democrat recognizes the need to build bridges that extend across party lines.
In high school, Glusenkamp Perez frequented the Young Republicans and Democrats clubs alike, she said. When her brother came out as gay, she said the Republican Party lost currency with her.
“Extremists do not pass bills in Congress. Work happens in the middle. The rhetoric and the celebrity happens at the extremes, and we’ve got to start electing people that believe in public service again,” she said. “We will not agree on everything, but I will always listen to people. I will always understand that issues are complex and people deserve to be heard.”
Among the top pillars of her platform, the candidate’s website lists reproductive freedom, inflation, affordable child care and medications, and spending federal dollars on law enforcement in the 3rd district with the goal of stopping rising crime.
Gun control isn’t part of her platform, which she said is challenging at times.
“It’s hard to go into a Democratic crowd and say you’re not going to ban assault rifles. But, when we talk about them (the issues), we are building coalitions. We are, I think, broadening the dialogue in a way that needs to happen,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.
Crime is one issue where she thinks Southwest Washington voters will resonate with her.
Likewise, homelessness, supporting technical education and strengthening the economy by uplifting Washingtonian industries including paper mills were topics she felt voters districtwide would agree need attention in Congress.
Glusenkamp Perez has previously said she’s the only general election candidate ever in Washington’s 3rd Congressional District not from Clark County.
She and Kent alike want their potential stints in Congress to be defined by championing problems for rural Washingtonians, and both have a focus on increasing family wage jobs, reducing crime and supporting commercial fishermen, loggers and recreators.
In a district spanning parts of Thurston County and encompassing Clark, Lewis, Cowlitz, Pacific, Wahkiakum and Skamania counties, the landscape and its people are diverse. The Chehalis, Columbia and Willapa river basins are firmly within its political lines, as are the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, Mount St. Helens and the Willapa Hills.
A long list of environmental issues face the district. Glusenkamp Perez emphasized the need to maintain forests properly to avoid wildfires and calls her take on conservation “pocket book environmentalism.”
One example from her website states: “Paper-producing states like Washington can be leaders in the sustainable forestry that provides clean, renewable cardboard.”
Meet me halfway
Asked to grade President Joe Biden’s administration, Glusenkamp Perez said she didn’t want to “criticize’’ or “cheerlead,” but added, “the reality speaks for itself.”
She wants to meet voters in the middle, and wants to put pressure on both Democrats and Republicans to stop demonizing those different from them, she said.
Those who just see “R” or “D” miss the point, she said, and the world is too nuanced to stay within party lines.
“There’s a place for clarity and for divisiveness, but it can’t come at the expense of honesty and real, critical thinking about issues,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.
She’s been encouraged by bipartisan supporters.
“Running as a blue is not the reason that anyone should vote for me,” she said, adding that her qualifications come not from the letter behind her name, but from who she is, as a business owner, a mother and “a rural American.”
The top vote-getter this November will serve a two-year term and will make a $174,000 yearly salary.
For more on the candidates, visit the online voters’ guide at clark.wa.gov/sites/default/files/2022-06/2022ClarkCoun tyPrimaryVP-WEB_0.pdf. To register to vote, head to voter.votewa.gov/WhereToVote.aspx or call 564-397-2345 to find registration nearest you. The general election will be held on Tuesday, Nov. 8.
The League of Women Voters of Clark County will hold a debate between the two 3rd Congressional District candidates with the Leagues from Klickitat/Skamania, Lewis and Cowlitz counties at 2 p.m., Saturday, Oct. 15, at the downtown Vancouver public library at 901 C St., Vancouver.
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