Democratic U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez is making an impression on colleagues seven months into her first term, as she tries to forge a political identity as an independent voice for her southwest Washington district.
“I hope you take this positively but your congresswoman is a pest,” U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell told a crowd gathered at Washougal Waterfront Park on Friday to mark receipt of federal dollars for a long-sought transportation project in Gluesenkamp Perez’s district.
“She calls me all the time,” Cantwell continued. “She calls about every project. She calls about every idea.”
A year ago Gluesenkamp Perez, who hails from rural Skamania County, was conducting what many Democratic and Republican insiders viewed as a quixotic bid for Congress.
The story of the 2022 primary election in the 3rd Congressional District centered on whether incumbent Republican Jaime Herrera Beutler, who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump, could fend off the challenge of a Trump-backed candidate.
Gluesenkamp Perez’s district stretches from the Oregon border north to Centralia, west to Long Beach and east to Packwood and White Salmon.
On Friday, at the waterfront park, she stood alongside Cantwell and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, who wrapped up a two-day tour to cities like Washougal, where federal dollars are getting delivered for infrastructure projects.
Afterward, Gluesenkamp Perez spoke with the Standard about a wildfire burning in her home county, gas prices, and climate policy. The interview was lightly edited for clarity and length.
The Tunnel Five Fire is in your county. Did you have to evacuate?
I’m not that close but I’m close enough that my smoke alarms go off at night. It sucks. My heart really goes out to people waiting to see if their homes survived or not, and people who know that they didn’t.
Washington has ambitious policies like cap-and-trade to combat climate change, which some say are driving up gas prices, currently the nation’s highest. There’s also a push for people to buy electric vehicles. But it seems those with lower incomes end up shouldering a heavier burden of these policies. Your thoughts?
I fixed cars for a living. They’re not new cars. I think the average age is like 2007. You are pointing at state policy that I think is often experienced as a regressive tax. It’s really evident to me that the middle class and working people are the ones that foot the bill. What I have really seen is there are two [publicly available] electric car chargers in my county … They’re both at resorts.
Wait, just two?
Yes. In the county, it’s a big county. So if you’re trying to push all electric, it’s just not reflective of what the world looks like in rural communities. So it’s important that we make policy that is reflective of the facts on the ground. … Policy should be pointed at energy prices that support working families. I think my role on the federal level is to pursue more balanced policy that positions us for long-term strength.
Speaking of electric vehicles, customers want choice but not every model available on the market is eligible for savings through a federal incentive program. Should that change?
Choice is important. It’s also important that we’re supporting American jobs and American manufacturing with our policies. And because it is the long game, we don’t want to support, I certainly don’t want to be supporting, an energy policy that’s predicated on exploitative labor practices.
Another issue is that folks with “range anxiety” are leery of buying an EV.
I think that’s something that hasn’t really been evaluated through the appropriate lens. The average consumer drives 30 miles a day and we are building a Tesla Plaid with a 400-mile range. And the limiting factor in electric vehicle market penetration is batteries. It’s the inputs to batteries.
How long will it take to get the charging infrastructure in place and more people buying EVs?
It’s going to take a lot longer given our shortages of materials. You talk to anybody in the [public utility districts], you talk to anybody that works in power distribution, it’s like, we’re all obsessed with whatever shenanigans Elon Musk is up to. That’s not energy policy. Energy policy is: How are our trade schools doing? How are we going to support electrification? It means you’ve got to address the transformer shortages.
The Interstate 5 Columbia River bridge is a major project in your district. Washington did get federal dollars before but lost them when the project didn’t go forward due to political disagreements. Any concern that will hurt the community’s chances this time around?
We have a fresh opportunity to build relationships with [Secretary Pete] Buttigieg. I think that we have a lot of assets to leverage and I think that the data is on our side with this argument. The particulars are always going to be work to hammer out in the community and my role is to listen and to advocate. You don’t want a representative talking about what color the bridge is gonna be, right? That’s not my role here.
So, did you have a chance to ask the secretary about the potential timing for a decision on federal funding support?
Oh, he’s heard from me on it.
It sounds like you are a bit dogged at times. Sen. Maria Cantwell called you a “pest” and meant it in the kindest way. Is it nice to be considered a pest?
It’s a good review. It’s a good report card, I’d say. Maybe I shouldn’t call her during Thanksgiving, maybe work on boundaries? I don’t know.
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