Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez says Congress needs down-to-earth members


Editor’s Note: Columnist Julie McDonald previously wrote a three-part series based on an interview with Republican congressional candidate Joe Kent. The series can be found at

She expects people to yell at her — and they do. Longtime conservative friends shun her. Liberal friends chastise her. Acquaintances curse her out in text messages.

It’s all part of the job, and after her first year, Third Congressional District U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez doesn’t regret campaigning and winning the office as a moderate Democrat in an independent district.

“It’s lonely,” 35-year-old Gluesenkamp Perez said this month during a joint interview at the Backstage Café in Kelso with my former Daily News colleague Andre Stepankowsky, of Longview. “I don’t feel like there are a whole lot of people in D.C. who share my values and who I really respect deeply.”

The culture in the nation’s capital contrasts sharply with her life in Skamania County and work running an auto repair shop in Portland. She isn’t a polished politician, but rather a down-to-earth mom and shop owner, showing up for the interview in jeans, blue cable-knit sweater and green corduroy cap and interspersing “like” and “you know” throughout her conversation.

“People seem to become very out of touch with reality,” the congresswoman said. “People forget what it means to work for a living there. They lose touch with this sense of humility, and I think people stop telling the truth.”

Lawmakers writing bills have everything they need — roofs over their heads, access to child care, kids attending good schools, money to pay their bills. They complain about how hard their jobs are, despite working in air-conditioned offices rather than “wrenching in a shop,” she said, adding that the job can be “emotionally trying, but it is not, by any means, the same thing.”

“They don’t share the sense of urgency that the American Dream is escaping most of us,” she said. “There’s a complacency. People just like the power and the attention, I think, and that’s really, really dangerous.”

MGP is seeking re-election after her narrow general election victory in November 2022 over conservative Republican Joe Kent, a retired Army Special Forces officer, 50.14 percent to 49.31 percent, or by 2,629 votes. In the August 2022 primary, Kent had ousted incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, who lost support from conservatives when she voted to impeach former President Donald Trump after the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol.

“There is no higher calling than to be of service,” MGP said. “Any job where you are truly serving your community is I think the highest calling.”

She faces three Republican contenders in this summer’s primary election — Kent, 43, Yacolt, the GOP frontrunner endorsed by the Washington State Republican Party; Leslie Lewallen, 49, a former King County prosecutor and Camas City Council member; and Leslie French, 69, Camas, managing member of Believe LLC and a former media services coordinator for Portland Community College. No matter their party, the top two vote-getters in the August primary will progress to the November ballot.

By Sept. 30, 2023, MGP had $1.6 million in cash on hand compared with Kent’s $443,404 and Lewallen’s $143,838, according to the Federal Elections Commission. French wasn’t listed as having any cash on hand.

Committee hearings, such as one on how energy regulations affect small businesses, are filled with professors, lawyers and lobbyists, MGP said, rather than people actually affected by the laws, such as those fixing washing machines or repairing cars.

“I was like, do you respect people who work enough to invite them in and put them at the table here?” the congresswoman said. “It’s pretty frustrating to hear so much lip service for pride in these American values and then see whose opinion is not consulted in developing a priority.”

Many politicians listen more to donors who can help fund their re-elections than to constituents, she said. “You just lose touch with what really is keeping people up at night.”

MGP invited Maureen Harkcom, Lewis County Farm Bureau president, to attend the Christmas Ball at the White House.

“She’s someone that’s doing the real work of keeping America fed,” she said. “We’re importing approximately 40 percent of fresh fruits and vegetables we eat. Like, that’s what the committee hearings should be on. Not on impeaching such and such.”

At a senior administrative official’s home for a holiday gathering, MGP noticed all the garlands were plastic.

“I was like, you know we grow these in my district,” MGP said. “And I was ushered away. But the idea that we are going to replace trees we grow in America with plastic made from oil in Saudi assembled by who knows who in what prison camp in China…” She shook her head.

It took more than three weeks last fall to pick a new Speaker of the House. “Whose life was made better with all that drama?” MGP asked. “It’s just like people think they’re living in a reality TV show and you’re not.”

Congress is so divided politically, she said, it’s hard to find people from the other party willing to sign onto bipartisan bills.

“It’s turned into partisan football,” she said. “All these folks are just concerned with not getting primaried by their own party, and so you have both parties veering further and further into their corner and less and less willing to be on bipartisan bills and actually do challenging work fixing things.”

As she tries to navigate the middle ground in an independent district held alternately by Republicans and Democrats, MGP said, partisanship creates difficulty.

“It means that there are less risky ideas and risky solutions and people who are really getting skin in the game.”

To offset the negativity, she reminds herself why she ran for the office.

“Somebody needs to be there to demand that they have people in the trades and to redirect the conversation to fact-based reality and to stand up to the extremists on both sides,” she said. “So it feels really valuable because I don’t see other people with my perspective or life experience.”

She earned a degree in economics from Reed College in Portland, the city where she and her husband, Dean, run an independent auto repair shop. They have one son, a toddler.

“There are a lot of lawyers, a lot of people who could give you an exposition on constitutional law,” she said, but not as many who work in the trades fixing things, struggling to find day care, juggling work and home schedules, asking whether the family can afford another kid, she said, “the common concerns, the things that keep people awake at night.”

MGP actively supports technical education programs, especially as artificial intelligence makes inroads in many professions such as writing, journalism and business administration.

“We’re all watching AI take over,” she said. “But nobody in China is going to fix my plumbing for me or wire my house. These jobs are durably American and durably family-wage and create an America where people own their own homes again.”

She’s a strong advocate of right-to-repair bills encouraging consumers to repair cars, appliances and equipment rather than dumping used items into landfills every five or so years and simply buying new versions, which manufacturers want.

“Landfills are just filling up with trash,” MGP said. “Young people don’t understand what quality is.”

With regard to flooding in Lewis County and a proposed dam on the Chehalis River, MGP said she defers to commissions studying the flooding issues and solutions they develop.

“The federal government should not be coming up with local solutions,” she said. “We should be advocating for the money to come back (to the 3rd District).”

I’ll share more of my interview with the congresswoman next week.


Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at