She has held office fewer than three months, but the 3rd Congressional District’s Representative Marie Gluesenkamp-Perez (MGP), D‑Washington, is emerging as a role model and media magnet in the Democrats’ Class of 2022.
She’s drawn recognition for making the lengthy journey from co-owning a Portland auto repair shop to the Longworth House Office Building.
She did it despite receiving no support from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. She outran Senator Patty Murray, particularly among rural and blue-collar voters who had drifted away from the Democratic Party.
“A New Voice for Winning Back Democratic Votes” headlined a New York Times opinion piece, while a Politico article entitled “She Fixes Cars: Can She Fix Congress’ Elitism Problem” spoke to her “bracing critique of her party’s deeply out-of-touch approach to the middle class.”
Southwest Washington has been a poster region for shifts in American politics. Once home to Democratic Representative Julia Butler Hansen, the “little old lady in loggers’ boots,” its economy has fallen on hard times and many of its voters have turned to the hard right.
In the 1972 presidential race, only two counties in Washington, Grays Harbor and Pacific, gave majorities to George McGovern.
Both went for Republican Tiffany Smiley in the 2022 Senate race.
Once-Democratic Cowlitz County has given Governor Jay Inslee less than forty percent of its vote in the 2016 and 2020 gubernatorial races.
The 19th Legislative District has switched from an all-Democratic delegation in the statehouse to an all-Republican one in the past three elections.
The Democratic Party’s base has shifted to upper middle class, college-educated voters in places like Seattle’s 43rd and 46th Districts – where Republican luminaries Dan Evans and Slade Gorton had their start – and the 41st and 48th Districts in the east side of Lake Washington. Pro-liberty Democratic women hold State Senate seats in what was once a Republican heartland.
The same trend holds true nationally. The center of America’s “rust belt”, the upper Ohio River valley, used to be Democratic turf, its House members under the thumb of a tough-minded Appropriations Committee powerhouse Representative John Murtha, D‑Pennsylvania. The Republicans have captured the region, in particular turning Ohio and West Virginia into red states.
Gluesenkamp-Perez, already nicknamed MGP, has bucked the trend.
She carried Pacific County, cut losses in heavily Republican Lewis County, capturing just enough rural and blue-collar support while running up a majority in populous Clark County, just as NPI’s research indicated that she could.
She is already on Republicans’ target list for 2024.
A signature MGP TV spot created by Dan Kully showed her sliding out from beneath an auto body. In the adoring Politico profile, MGP spoke of “reconnecting Americans with our lost ability to fix your own shit” and said with pride, “I replaced hundreds of catalytic converters last year.” She and her husband live in semi-rural Skamania County, a Tea Party stronghold in its time.
Driving south on Interstate 5, through Lewis County, motorists have for decades been treated to right-wing messages just south of Chehalis on the Hamilton Farms’ Uncle Sam billboard. It has denounced gun safety bills, mocked Hillary Clinton and relentlessly jabbed at then-Representative Jolene Unsoeld.
MGP is courting Lewis County. She has a seat on the House Agriculture Committee, and recently held a “farm bill listening session” in Centralia.
The legislation directs the Small Business Administration to assist small business owners in hiring graduates of career and technical education programs. It is cosponsored with Senator Roger Marshall, R‑Kansas.
It mirrors an initiative by Pennsylvania’s newly elected Democratic Governor Josh Shapiro to no longer to require a college degree in state hiring.
Gluesenkamp-Perez is also cosponsoring legislation to involve tribes and counties in forest restoration. “Keeping the woods working for future generations is central to who we are as rural Americans,” MGP said in announcing the legislation.
A cosponsor is archconservative Senator Jim Risch, R‑Idaho, known for raising a stink when a wilderness area in his state was named after a conservation champion, the late Democratic Governor Cecil Andrus.
MGP is also part of a bipartisan appeal, asking the House Appropriations Committee to maintain or increase the $390 million budget for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program.
The program delivers food packages to seniors with annual incomes of less than $18,955 per adult. It serves Cowlitz, Pacific, Thurston and Skamania Counties.
The MGP agenda is one of connecting national priorities to local needs. Gluesenkamp Perez has a counterpart in fellow first-termer Mary Peltola, D‑Alaska, who has focused on a suffering salmon fishing industry in her home state.
MGP has come up to Puget Sound for fundraisers. Peltola has raised money from Seattle environmentalists while at the same time championing the Willow Project, ConocoPhillips’ big oil and gas development on Alaska’s North Slope.
Peltola has joined Gluesenkamp-Perez on Republicans’ target list for 2024.
Joe Kent is off and running – some would say off-but-running — for a 3rd District rematch. He’s certain to get airtime from Tucker Carlson on FNC and has already staged a fundraiser at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, D.C., and an event in Lewis County.
The Democrats have elected five consecutive governors in Washington, and held both our U.S. Senate seats since 2000, boosted by majorities in the Puget Sound basin. Senator Murray carried King County by a 400,000 vote margin, despite a barrage of Tiffany Smiley TV ads and the command from Sean Hannity on Fox: “We want that seat.”
It’s time, however, from the Cowlitz River to Ohio’s Mahoning Valley, for the D’s to reclaim lost territory. The Republicans are seeking deep cuts in education and social programs, notably those that serve an endangered middle class. MGP is countering Republicans’ culture wars by putting focus on needs of her district.
Rural and labor Democrats used to be a vibrant part of our political culture.
As an aging Baby Boomer, I can remember unions rallying in the 1950’s to defeat fire-at-will employment initiatives. The measures were championed by Boeing CEO William Allen. Senator Warren Magnuson delivered on measures ranging from putting doctors in such rural locales as the Methow Valley to securing money for the great third powerhouse at Grand Coulee Dam.
Marie Gluesenkamp-Perez is a new kid from the Class of 2022 but with lessons to teach. She’s using auto body parts to educate Democrats on the body politic.