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News / Northwest

Gluesenkamp Perez launches new office in downtown Kelso to reach rural voters

The Columbian
Published: December 22, 2023, 7:34am

LONGVIEW — In a congressional district where roughly 98% of the land is considered rural, Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Skamania, recently launched an office in Kelso, where about 170,000 fewer people live compared to Vancouver, the home of her flagship office.

The goal? To reach rural voters, she said.

The congresswoman met with a few dozen constituents Friday at an open house at the 308 Pacific Ave. office, located across the street from Columbia Wellness.

The narrow downtown office was one of the few buildings available, given the complications of using federal funds for rent. But mainly, Gluesenkamp Perez wanted a new location that was more centralized in the district and closer to Southwest Washington’s rural communities.

“I think there’s a posture of power that wants people to come to it,” Gluesenkamp Perez said. “My job is to serve and listen.”

Her personal bills have often focused on rural-heavy issues. She serves on the House committees for agriculture and small businesses. Over the course of 2023 Gluesenkamp Perez introduced bills to help native tribes manage important forests, expand childcare access in rural communities, and oversee foreign owners of U.S. farmland.

Washington’s 3rd District includes Vancouver, the fourth-largest city in Washington. Roughly two thirds of the district’s population lives in Clark County. But, the district also covers three large and sparsely-populated counties, including the congresswomen’s home in Skamania County, and spans from the Pacific Ocean through the Gifford-Pinchot National Forest. A Census map shows the district had about 74 persons per square mile in 2010.

The Kelso office is open Tuesdays and Thursdays, or by appointment, and ran by one fulltime staff member and a second who comes up from the main Vancouver office depending on the demand for questions or requests.

Gluesenkamp Perez’s predecessor Jaime Herrera Beutler ran a small satellite office in Chehalis City Hall for several of her terms representing the 3rd District. The Chehalis office was only open on Tuesdays, for at most three hours at a time.

Issues ‘normal people think about’

The beginning of Gluesenkamp Perez’s first term in early 2023 was delayed several days by the first fight over Kevin McCarthy becoming Speaker of the House. Gluesenkamp Perez has voted on who should be Speaker of the House five times since then, including a vote to remove McCarthy.

“I didn’t expect the House to be functional. But getting there has confirmed and strengthened my belief that the body is not a representative body. It’s not a body that respects the people who work for a living,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.

Gluesenkamp Perez has passed two bills during her first year in the House of Representatives. The most recent bill success was a co-sponsored measure to support mothers getting drug-abuse treatment, which was folded into a broader reauthorization for substance-use programs.

During the final minutes of Friday’s open house, the announcement broke that the Interstate 5 Bridge replacement project was awarded $600 million by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The bridge funds were a bipartisan request from all of Washington’s congressional members, but the request was co-led by Gluesenkamp Perez and Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray.

Gluesenkamp Perez has broken with the Democratic Party on a handful of high-profile votes. Those splits have become more notable during the votes on the Israel-Gaza war, including her vote in October to censure Rep. Rashida Tlaib over her comments on Gaza. In an interview Friday, Gluesenkamp Perez specifically criticized her use of ‘From the river to the sea’ as a pro-Palestine slogan.

“Political dialogue has become so heated, and when a legislator chooses to use inflammatory language, I’m not going to defend them,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.

Despite the occasional splits, the congresswoman said she was not worried about alienating Democrat leadership. No other major Democratic candidate is challenging her reelection campaign in 2024. Gluesenkamp Perez said the old party members appreciate her being willing to bring up the issues that “normal people think about.”

(c)2023 The Daily News, Longview, Wash.

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