From the 7,880-foot summit of Old Snowy, in the Goat Rocks Wilderness, you can gaze out over the expanse of Southwest Washington, once a reliably Democratic region but lately a “red” corner of an increasingly “blue” state.
Marie Gluesenkamp Perez has put a different hue on the 3rd District, scoring the most surprising Democratic upset of any U.S. House race in the country.
She did it with minimal help from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, as the FiveThirtyEight model was giving ultra MAGA Republican Joe Kent a ninety-seven percent chance of winning.
It put Kent ahead by a three-point percent margin but showed a substantial number of 3rd District voters had developed a negative opinion of him.
It can happen when you speak to a Washington, D.C., rally in support of defendants on trial for the January 6th, 2021 insurrection.
Gluesenkamp Perez, an auto shop co-owner from Skamania County, won it in the precincts while Kent was taking to the air on the Tucker Carlson Show and Steve Bannon’s podcast. Gluesenkamp Perez stressed that she would attend to the needs of a needy district.
She talked about local issues rather than cultural wars, won big in the population center of Clark County, refused to give up rural areas, and gained backing from longtime supporters of six-term Representative Jamie Herrera Beutler, ousted by Kent in the primary.
She ran far ahead of other Democrats on the ballot. Gluesenkamp Perez took 45% of the vote in Cowlitz County, compared with 39.77% for Senator Patty Murray.
She topped 55% in Clark County while Murray squeezed out a 51.13% majority. She carried Pacific County, where Murray narrowly lost.
The Democrats are coming up short in the 17th and 18th Legislative Districts, despite fielding promising candidates and investing resources.
Was Gluesenkamp Perez’s victory a reaction to Kemp’s extremism? In part, yes. Voters in the 3rd District couldn’t stomach a candidate who wanted to charge Dr. Anthony Fauci with murder. Or who parroted a pro-Putin line on the war in Ukraine. Or imported show horse Representative Matt Gaetz as a surrogate.
Donald Trump narrowly carried the 3rd District in 2020 but has not carried himself well, obsessed with carrying on a purge of any Republican lawmaker who showed an iota of independence. Herrera Beutler was one of ten House Republican votes to impeach the 45th president after the January 6th attack on the Capitol.
She also “outed” a mid-insurrection conversation in which Trump dressed down supine House Minority Leader Representative Kevin McCarthy.
The 3rd District used to have a tradition of Democratic House members who delivered. “Julia will get it for you,” became then mantra when Julia Butler Hansen, the “little old lady in logger’s boots” from Cathlamet, represented the district. She was a House Appropriations Committee power.
Representative Don Bonker became a trade expert and shepherded federal resources into the district after eruption of Mt. St. Helens.
Representative Brian Baird hosted multiple town meetings hearing the needs of conservative rural corners of the district.
The state’s resource economy has, however, fallen on hard times.
The result is high unemployment, human hurt due to the opioid crisis, and voters venting anger. They have elected loud, anti-government politicians (e.g. Representative Jim Walsh of Aberdeen) who rarely embrace means where government can bolster local economic development.
The state’s Democratic nabobs haven’t helped.
Governor Jay Inslee first embraced, but then – during a brief run for president – opposed a $2 billion gas-to-methanol plant planned for Kalama.
The Department of Ecology denied permits to a coal export terminal proposed at the site of an old aluminum smelter in Longview.
The Democrats used to champion resource development.
The old Longview smelter displayed a picture of President Franklin D. Roosevelt grinning and waving as he was driven through the plant.
Representative Bonker was a steadfast opponent of log exports, arguing that the cut from Washington forests should go through the mill rather than onto ships.
The governor has rarely put boots on the ground to offer alternatives to the big ticket projects he has vetoed. He goes elsewhere to tout the state’s green energy economy. As with Murray this year, Inslee has taken less than forty percent of the Cowlitz County vote in his last two reelection runs.
Marie Gluesenkamp Perez shows promise of restoring the hands-on tradition of her Democratic predecessors.
She has also roused constituencies, from youthful volunteers to Portland-area residents who’ve relocated across the Columbia River. She’s done it without the party resources which backed the unsuccessful 2018 and 2020 campaigns in which WSU-Vancouver professor Carolyn Long challenged Herrera Beutler.
Using Gluesenkamp Perez’s upset win, it’s time for the Democrats to reconnect. After all, they held the 3rd District from 1960 to 1994, and the 19th Legislative District for decades until it swung to the Republicans in 2016 and 2020.
Governor Inslee has decamped to Sharm el Sheikh this week for a United Nations-sponsored global climate conference. He has previously shown up for climate summits in Glasgow, Copenhagen and Bonn.
He did good in Bonn, challenging a Trump regime spokesman who was touting “clean” coal and nuclear energy.
He did well on a fundraising stop enroute home from Glasgow.
A modest proposal: The governor needs to spend quality time down in the 3rd District. Our state’s governing Democrats ought to deliver for voters who rejected the ultra MAGA extremism of Joe Kent and opted for a reasonable, workhorse House member in Marie Gluesenkamp Perez.
She will be a servant of Southwest Washington but is a national model for Democrats reconnecting with blue collar workers and rural America.