Congresswoman Marie Gluesenkamp Perez Finds Her Footing


From car shop owner to Congress, U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez's life has changed considerably since last fall, but one telling detail remains unchanged: She doesn't like wearing suits.

"I don't walk around wearing a suit because I don't want people to think that I think I'm better than them," Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Skamania, said in a recent interview with The Columbian at her district office in Vancouver. "I want them to come and tell me how I can be helpful."

Following a month of frequent flights to D.C. since being sworn in, Gluesenkamp Perez is home for a few weeks, but she's busier than ever finding ways to better serve Southwest Washington.

Last week, Gluesenkamp Perez held a grand opening of her district office and hosted her second town hall at Clark College two days later. She spent a recent Friday morning touring small businesses in Vancouver followed by an afternoon at Wahkiakum High School learning about its technical education program.

"What really encourages me about Marie is that she has found a way to get through to people with what they care about, with what makes a difference, in a very concrete way. Things like the right to repair and forestry and trade schools," said Gary Seeman, a Vancouver resident at the district office opening.

Throughout her campaign, Gluesenkamp Perez touted her moderate stance and passion for the trades and small businesses as her main selling points — and it worked, with her narrow win in Washington's 3rd Congressional District last fall making her the region's first Democrat representative in 12 years.

Sitting behind her desk — covered with papers including a 2023 Ironworker Women calendar — Gluesenkamp Perez talked about the whirlwind of her time in D.C., her top priorities over the next two years, and how she is juggling her work and personal responsibilities.

A Rural Perspective in D.C.

Gluesenkamp Perez's rural roots and small-business ownership experience have made her popular across the political and socioeconomic spectrums, particularly with trade industries in Southwest Washington.

"For many years, the carpenters and all construction trades in Southwest Washington have not had the support of a representative in the 3rd Congressional District," said Cory Elliot, political director of the Pacific Northwest Regional Council of Carpenters Union. "We are thrilled to have someone who is interested in expanding pathways to family-wage jobs for the community through state-certified apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs."

So far, Gluesenkamp Perez has followed through with her promises. As a member of the House Agriculture Committee, she recently co-sponsored a bill that would require heavy equipment manufacturers to provide enough data to make self-service and maintenance possible — something small-business owners have long been fighting for.

Almost exhaustively, Gluesenkamp Perez has told her constituencies that she is unafraid to cross party lines to get things done.

"When you're on the (House) floor, you often see people walking around with the list of printed vote recommendations from the party, and we don't do that," Gluesenkamp Perez said. "We look at each piece of legislation in our own office and decide how we're gonna go with it. And sometimes, it's hard to not do what everyone else is doing."

She recently co-sponsored the Expanding Access to Capital for Rural Job Creators Act, a bipartisan bill passed by the House that would require the Securities and Exchange Commission to closely monitor challenges for rural small businesses and bring issues to Congress.

Gluesenkamp Perez said that her first visits to D.C. were mainly spent observing other House members, deciding which initial bills to support and getting support for her own initiatives.

She cites what she calls her "strong bullshit detector" as a major asset in choosing which House members to ask for help on certain bills.

"You're basically selling people on why this is the right thing to do. That's really fun for me, and it turns out I'm decent at it. I think it's because I really believe in what I'm talking about," Gluesenkamp Perez said.

Gluesenkamp Perez said she is trying to stay away from the political antics playing out in D.C., instead focusing her energy on major issues in Southwest Washington. She said big political spectacles, such as the recent State of the Union address, can be disorienting and surreal.

"There's helicopters and so many police everywhere, barricades everywhere, the motorcade, the dogs. It was crazy," she said.

Cory Torppa, director of Kalama High School's Career & Technical Education program and Perez's invited guest, agreed and said the trip and experience with Gluesenkamp Perez's staff was unforgettable.

"On the day of the State of the Union, I spent the day with the congresswoman and her staff. They were all so great," Torppa said in an email interview. "I was able to see behind the scenes of how a Congressional office operates. It was amazing to see how often Congresswoman Marie Gluesenkamp Perez meets with groups to best serve Southwest Washington."

Work in Southwest Washington Ramps Up

Now that she's back in her home state, Gluesenkamp Perez said she is eager to do less talking and more listening. She said meeting with local residents and groups has spurred her sense of urgency and duty to the area.

"My dad was a pastor growing up, and it honestly feels like a similar lifestyle, where people just come in and they trust you and they talk to you about the hardest thing that's going on," she said.

Gluesenkamp Perez said the work is rewarding but taxing, and she is still finding ways to balance her work and personal life. Two weeks ago, she lost her voice and couldn't speak to her son and husband for several days so she could speak upon returning to D.C.

Despite the hurdles she is still overcoming, Gluesenkamp Perez emphasized that she is honored to be in this position and hopes to hear from as many Southwest Washington residents as possible. At her district office grand opening, she told the packed crowd that her office is always open to field questions about VA benefits, small-business aid and other federal programs.

Moving forward, Gluesenkamp Perez said her top priorities are supporting small businesses and changing the national dialogue surrounding the trades. More than anything, she hopes to provide a voice for Southwest Washington residents, and she'll do whatever it takes.

"I don't want to have any regrets. If I only get two years here, I have to have done my damnedest to leave it all on the field," Gluesenkamp Perez said.