On January 7, Marie Gluesenkamp Perez was sworn-in as the new U.S. Representative for the Third Congressional District in Southwest Washington. Last November, the Democrat and small business owner from unincorporated Skamania County narrowly defeated Republican and retired Army Green Beret Joe Kent, who was endorsed by former President Donald Trump. On the campaign trail, she pledged to fight for reproductive rights, lowering the cost of prescription drugs and shoring up blue collar and manufacturing jobs in the district. Her victory marks the first time the seat was held by a Democrat in 12 years.
Congresswoman Gluesenkamp Perez spoke with “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller from her office on Capitol Hill.
The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Dave Miller: How are you feeling today on your fifth day as an official member of Congress?
Marie Gluesenkamp Perez: Yeah, it’s exciting. I’m happy to be done with the wild goose chase over there at the chaos caucus and get to work actually voting on bills.
Miller: “The chaos caucus” — that’s your take on the five days and 15 rounds of voting that it took for Kevin McCarthy to be elected as speaker? What was going through your mind on vote after vote?
Gluesenkamp Perez: I was really frankly working hard seeing if there were moderate Republicans we could work with to find a unity candidate. Listen, I was really happy to be sworn in, but it’s sort of, like, bittersweet because it was just this affirmation that McCarthy was really there to negotiate with Lauren Boebert and not moderates.
Miller: How have you been figuring out the people that you think you can work with?
Gluesenkamp Perez: Well, I mean snooping. You kind of like look at who’s elected, what votes they’ve taken on certain bills, what things we have in common and that’s kind of always the place to start, and then just introducing myself to people. That’s kind of the biggest thing. Maybe we’re not going to have a way to work together on this bill. But if I’ve got their cell phone number, if I can call them, if I know who their chief is, that opens up window for down the road.
Miller: What is your take on the new House rules that Republicans narrowly passed just two days ago?
Gluesenkamp Perez: I mean it’s sad. There was so much attention on the sort of, like, cult of personality around the speakership and the chaos caucus and all that, but it’s the rules package with a motion to vacate, who knows how long McCarthy is actually going to be speaker.
Miller: Meaning, any one member now opposed to the majority of the caucus can call for a new vote for speaker.
Gluesenkamp Perez: Right, and so it just throws sand in the gears. This rules package is really going to make it harder to govern and it’s durable over the next two years. Whereas the speaker, who knows how long McCarthy will last before he gets a motion to vacate. And it also means that we’re going to be spending so much more time voting over and over on speakers and motions to vacate and things that really are not going to do anything to improve the lives of normal Americans or get us a government that works better for us.
Miller: Yesterday, the House approved also along party lines, the creation of a select committee on the weaponization of the federal government. It’s going to have broad powers to investigate federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI for efforts to allegedly silence or attack conservatives. What’s your opinion of this new subcommittee?
Gluesenkamp Perez: I think political theater is the right word for it. When I talk to constituents, these are not the issues that are in their top 10. They’re not even in their top 20. We want schools that work; we want roads we can drive on; we want a well-functioning tax code; we want to make it easier to pay our taxes and pay them correctly. And this is just a very partisan play to distract from the real work of good governance.
Miller: The legislation that you have been most keen to champion is known as the right to repair. What’s the problem that you’re hoping to solve?
Gluesenkamp Perez: This is something that we’re seeing in many industries. Basically, there’s terms of service agreements that stop you from fixing your own stuff, and the genesis of this was John Deere tractors, putting a digital lock, so that only an authorized dealership could work on their tractors. And there was a major malfunction in the whole year make and model of a tractor and millions of dollars of hay were lost because there weren’t enough dealerships to work on these tractors. So people came out with their pitchforks, rightfully so, to say that when we own something, we believe that we also have the right to fix and maintain it. And I really believe that sense of DIY is in our DNA. That is our cultural heritage of self sufficiency in America.
I think we don’t have enough legislators who understand that right is very quickly being taken away by these terms of service agreements that stop you from replacing the batteries in your cell phone, stop you from checking the oil on your own car.
Miller: What’s your vision for how to actually get this kind of legislation passed? How do you build coalitions, How do you twist arms? How do you get something like this done?
Gluesenkamp Perez: For me, it’s leaning on people. Like, you say that you care about the trades, you care about labor, well, having the trades is predicated on having stuff to fix. So this is a practical, tangible way we can support small businesses, we can support the trades.
And then going out and finding there’s also industry for support for this, parts manufacturers care about this, the trades care about this. Also, some insurance agencies care about this because they would like more diversity in where their customers can go to get repairs done. The thing is that the more we lose the right to repair stuff, the more lives this is going to touch. And I’m hoping to be able to bring together a broad coalition of constituents, voters, also industry.
Miller: Last month, the US Forest Service transferred more than 23 acres to Skamania County. Your predecessor, Jaime Herrera Beutler, sponsored the bill that led to the transfer but her office credited you in part with helping this happen. What is this transfer going to mean for the region?
Gluesenkamp Perez: This is huge, and this is the county where I live, Skamania County. I think less than 7% of the land in Skamania County is taxable land. And that has had a really terrible impact on our ability to fund schools, fund roads, our police department. Transferring this land was part of a bigger agreement that the Forest Service took part in when the county gave land to complete part of the Pacific Crest Trail. And this moves a piece of old derelict commercial property the Forest Service was using as a tree nursery into the county holdings.
And so this is going to be a huge opportunity for the county to increase their commercial space they can lease out, and it’s great for the small businesses who need more commercial space. As anyone who’s tried to navigate a contract with the federal government — total nightmare, totally out of reach of small businesses. This is really one of those instances where it’s a win-win-win, and I was really excited to get to help push this forward.
Miller: I mentioned it was sponsored by your predecessor, Jaime Herrera Beutler. Did you have any meaningful conversations with her before you took office?
Gluesenkamp Perez: We met up for coffee and talked about the things that are important to both of us and our sense of what it means to be a public servant, and our views on where the district is, where it’s going, what our communities need. And I think like anyone, the more that you talk with people, the more you realize that you have the shared values. You don’t don’t always agree about how to go about achieving those goals. But I was really fortunate to even get to hire and retain some of her staff and build a bipartisan team in my office so that my office better reflects the values of my district.
Miller: What committee assignments are you most strongly lobbying for?
Gluesenkamp Perez: Well freshmen don’t get the A-list committees, but the committees that I’m able to get on that I’m really excited about and have been working hard to find a spot on are the agricultural committee. This is a farm bill year, so that is critical for our district. I’m also looking forward to hopefully serving on the Small Business Committee. My auto repair shop that I run with my husband, we actually got a loan from the S.B.A. and it was a nightmare. So I have a little bit of an ax to grind there to ensure that capital really is going to the small businesses that keep our economy thriving. Freshmen usually don’t get two committees, but I’m hoping to also wave onto the Veterans Affairs Committee as well.
Miller: You narrowly won a district that was held by a Republican for six terms, for 12 years. What do you think your victory says about the mood of constituents in your district?
Gluesenkamp Perez: I think that we’ve had enough of this sort of hyper partisanship and ugliness, the isolation of extremism. I think we’re all really tired of feeling like being a patriot means being mean to people on Facebook. I think that’s just a really lonely way to live your life. And I think that people are just tired of it and they want to find candidates that have the same lived experience they do, that share the same goals they do.
It’s getting to be a really concerning time in our history. We can’t afford this hyper partisanship. We’ve got to do the work to come together and deliver on things that measurably make people’s lives better: the cost of living increase for seniors on social security, having a more equitable tax structure, ensuring that small businesses have the actual support they need to get their foot in the door of the real estate market. All those things really matter for the long-term economic health of our country and who we see ourselves as. So I think winning this seat was less a reflection of who I am as an individual and I think more of a reflection of what our district’s values are, and I hope, a broader turn away and the political theater away from a dialogue controlled by Twitter.
U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez spoke to “Think Out Loud” host Dave Miller. Click play to listen to the full conversation: