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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Columns

Jayne: Marie Perez is no ‘limousine liberal’

The Columbian
Published: October 23, 2022, 6:02am

Sitting in a downtown Vancouver coffee shop, dressed more like a hiker than a candidate for Congress, Marie Gluesenkamp Perez doesn’t look like an “elite” or a “limousine liberal” — pejoratives that conservatives like to apply with a broad brush to Democrats.

She doesn’t sound like one, either.

“I want to make my position clear that I will not vote for Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House,” Perez says. “I look around, I look at my community, and I don’t see leadership in Congress looking like that.”

Part of the motivation for the statement is political strategy. Perez is facing Joe Kent in what appears to be a tight race to represent Washington’s 3rd District. With both candidates being political newcomers, they are trying to separate themselves from their opponents and trying to define themselves for voters. If Perez can draw enough swing voters, she can flip a district that has been in Republican hands for 12 years under Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler.

But part of the motivation for the statement is an authenticity that comes from a unique brand of Democrat.

Perez’s story is well known by now for voters who have been paying attention. It is a story that belies the Democratic stereotype that gets repeated on Fox News and talk radio, where the goal is to warn voters about out-of-touch idealists.

Perez lives in rural Skamania County. She co-owns and operates an auto repair shop with her husband. She opposes an assault weapons ban.

“She has a lot of Republican ideas,” Kathy McDonald says with a laugh. “I asked why she wasn’t a Republican.” Until recently, McDonald was vice chair of the Clark County Republican Party; she resigned in part to support Perez in this election.

While many politicians make a career out of trying to convince voters that they are Regular Joes and Janes, Perez seems to live it.

“It just takes so many resources to run for Congress,” she says. “My husband is working overtime at the shop so I can do this. Neighbors are cutting our lawn and delivering groceries. My dad, fortunately, recently retired and they basically moved in with us so they can help with child care.”

Perez grew up in the family of a conservative pastor and says her parents are Republicans. “It wasn’t until my brother came out as gay that I realized that Republicans weren’t for me,” she has said.

Yet as a candidate, Perez also is trying to distance herself from liberal orthodoxy.

Her independence is frightening to the Democratic leadership, and she readily complains about a lack of support from the national party. She also readily reflects on how owning an auto repair shop in Portland — which her husband opened after high school — gives her insight into the lives of average Americans.

“You get a front-row seat for the impact of some of these policies,” she says, reflecting on growing blight in the region’s largest city. “I’m pretty sure no members of Congress hosed feces off their driveway this year.” Perez has done so at her business. Twice.

She also has dealt with the alphabet soup of the regulatory state as a business owner — the EPA, OSHA, IRS, etc. After that, “It’s difficult for anybody to be a radical leftist.”

All of that might or might not be enough to win an election, but at least Perez seems to be living in the real world. That stands in contrast to Kent, who will say that the 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump or that Joe Biden is the lawfully elected president — depending upon who is asking.

If Perez is elected, being a freshman congresswoman and having no experience as a party insider can demand a steep learning curve. But she is certain about opposing Pelosi as Speaker of the House, preferring somebody who is not from a big city and somebody “with experience outside of Congress.”

The reason? It lies in what Perez sees as the biggest problem in Washington, D.C.: “Congress doesn’t look like America.”