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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.

Jayne: Perez working her way into role

By Greg Jayne
Published: July 8, 2023, 6:02am

Six months into her first term as a congresswoman, into weekly commutes between Washington, D.C., and Skamania County, into hosting town halls and responding to constituents and considering weighty legislative matters, Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez is relying on a bit of home-spun wisdom.

“My family has a saying: Expectations are resentment under construction,” Perez says during an interview in a downtown Vancouver coffee shop.

So, Perez has tried to temper her expectations of Washington, D.C. Yet the halls of Congress are rife with expectations and preconceptions, and they are rife with eye-opening experiences. Especially for somebody who was a noncandidate just 16 months ago, before triumphing in what pundits called one of the most surprising elections of the 2022 midterms.

The story is well-known by now. Not all that long ago, Perez was running a Portland auto repair shop that she co-owns with her husband, Dean. Now, she is finding ways to apply that real-world experience to Congress while her husband tends to the shop and their 23-month-old son.

“It’s a lot more similar to running a small business than people would expect — that’s my name on the door,” she says. “I will not be shy about the votes I’m taking. Some older members (Democrats) are shocked at how I’m voting: ‘I would be primaried right now.’ ”

Those votes often have bucked party doctrine, and Perez thus far ranks among the more centrist members of the House of Representatives, according to people who track such things. In an era when The Squad on the left and the MAGAs on the right garner a lion’s share of attention from the media and the public, it is tempting to paint both parties as being dominated by extremists. And it is refreshing to recognize that there is room in the middle for somebody like Perez.

So, it makes sense that she has been chosen as a co-chair of the Blue Dog Coalition, a group of moderate Democratic House members. By their own definition, the Blue Dogs are “pragmatic Democrats, appealing to the mainstream values of the American public … dedicated to pursuing fiscally responsible policies, ensuring a strong national defense for our country, and transcending party lines.”

Sounds like a great idea, but the history of the Blue Dog Coalition tells the story of American politics. In the 2009-10 Congress, the caucus had 64 members; now it has nine, with the middle being squeezed out of American politics.

“If you don’t center your politics around constituents and their lives, you get into click-bait politics,” Perez says.

In truth, most members of Congress adhere to that philosophy. But there are enough clowns to make the legislature look like a second-rate circus.

As Perez’s predecessor, Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler, warned colleagues from the floor of the House as she was leaving office: “Let me tell you what you won’t think of: That time you tweeted something that got 10,000 likes; or that time that you thought of a really mean, clever thing to say about the other party or the other ‘team.’ ”

All of which creates doubts about Republicans’ plans for defeating Perez in next year’s election. Painting Perez as an extreme liberal is a boilerplate strategy with no foundation in reality. It might appeal to voters who would not support her anyway, but it will do little to grow the Republican brand.

Admittedly, it is silly to talk about re-election at this point, just months into Perez’s term. But in the 24/7 landscape of modern politics, it’s always campaign season. Especially for congressional elections that come up every two years.

Meanwhile, Perez is still finding her way around Washington, including following the advice of a colleague to frequent the subterranean gym in a congressional office building.

“I’ve never been one to go the gym,” she says. “But I’m not walking the shop floor anymore. It’s the most bipartisan place you can be.”

In that regard, it seems sensible that Perez would feel comfortable there.