Securing border high priority for GOP congressional candidate Lewallen


When Third District U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez said on a podcast that “nobody stays awake at night worrying about the Southern border,” the words appalled attorney Leslie Lewallen, a Camas City Council member seeking to unseat the Democratic congresswoman.

“I don’t know what could be more tone deaf or out of touch than that statement alone,” Lewallen, a lifelong Republican and fifth-generation Washingtonian, said during an interview in Washougal late last month. “As a mother of four, I constantly am talking to my children about drugs and about drugs being laced with fentanyl.”

Securing the Southern border is among Lewallen’s top issues in her campaign to retake the Third District seat for Republicans. Stopping the flow of fentanyl entering our country from Mexico is “the most serious crisis that we’re facing as a nation,” she said.

“I’m lying awake at night, so I don’t know why she isn’t,” said Lewallen, 49, one of three Republicans in the race against the 35-year-old incumbent from Skamania County. The others are Joe Kent, a 43-year-old Special Forces veteran from Yacolt who narrowly lost to Gluesenkamp Perez in 2022, and Leslie French, 69, of Camas. No matter their party, only the top two vote-getters in the August primary will progress to the November ballot.

The latest campaign finance records from Dec. 31, 2023, show Gluesenkamp Perez with a huge lead over her Republican challengers, having raised nearly $3 million. Her cash on hand was $2.2 million. Kent has raised $823,440 with cash on hand listed as $532,294. Lewallen lagged behind with total receipts of $340,738. She spent $200,705, leaving $140,034. No other candidates in the race listed cash on hand.

Lewallen said illegal immigration is bankrupting cities and displacing students from schools.

“If you want the biggest threat to democracy, I think that is it,” she said. “That unsecure border. That is just really, really important to get that under control.”

She wouldn’t halt immigration.

“We’re a nation founded on immigrants,” she said. “As an attorney, I love following the law. There’s a right way to do things and there’s a wrong way to do things. As a mother of four, you always want to incentivize that good behavior. So let’s start on incentivizing those people who are trying to come here legally.”

Lewallen said she watched the last election cycle “with dismay” as contenders focused on the other Washington — Washington, D.C. — rather than issues affecting the lives and pocketbooks of citizens in the Third District. When Kent announced he’d run again, Lewallen acted.

“There hasn’t been one federal or statewide rematch that’s resulted in a flipped outcome in Washington State in the past 30 years,” Lewallen said. “I just thought, ‘OK, we’re going to lose again by an even wider margin.’”

As she contemplated who could run, she realized she had the skills to do so. After graduating from Mercer Island High School in 1993, Leslie Marshall earned her bachelor’s in political science from the University of Washington in 1997, worked for a year in public relations, then enrolled at Seattle University School of Law. Her father and two older sisters — as well as her husband — are attorneys, while her mother’s family are schoolteachers. Her parents divide their time between Olympia and Palm Springs.

She served as a legislative page for Washington State Rep. Jim Horn in high school and as an intern for First District U.S. Rep. Rick White in college. Both are Republicans. She clerked for Washington State Supreme Court Chief Justice Gerry Alexander following law school and, after marrying her husband, Brian Lewallen, in 2002, for Justice N. Patrick Crooks at the Wisconsin Supreme Court. The couple returned to the Seattle area, where she worked for a year as a deputy under Republican King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, primarily trying misdemeanor cases in Redmond District Court, but the long hours with a sick newborn at home proved difficult.

When her husband found a job as chief sustainability officer and assistant general counsel for Schnitzer Steel in Portland in 2018, the family moved to Clark County and purchased a home in Camas about the time COVID-19 hit. She described locking kids out of school for 18 months as tragic, resulting in Covid casualties as students felt hopeless and helpless.

“I was watching people that I love fall apart and the values of our country fall apart,” she said. “I found myself getting very angry and upset about what was happening, and I just decided at that point, I was going to get off the sidelines and do something about it. And the best way that I know how to parent is to have my kids watch me instead of listen to what I’m saying.”

She knocked on 5,000 doors in her run for an open Camas City Council seat that drew four contenders. She was sworn into office in December 2021. Since then, she’s worked on growth management and land-use issues, developed comprehensive camping ordinances as a member of a Homelessness Subcommittee, opposed a new utility tax — “People are getting taxed to death out here” — and helped preserve a second resource officer at the school district. She’s also worked with law enforcement officers and first responders and sits on the Regional Transportation Commission.

“I’ve been a working mom,” Lewallen said. “I’ve been a stay-at-home mom. I’ve been a work-from-home mom. And I’ve been a part-time working mom. So I’ve experienced all those different motherly roles.”

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