Congresswoman talks veterans, homelessness at Toledo town hall


One Toledo gentleman on Wednesday night at a town hall with U.S. Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, D-Washougal, had a comfortable solution for travel and seating: his lawnmower. 

When the evening event at Kemp Olson Memorial Park wrapped up, he fired it up and slowly rode away. 

Though probably the most noticeable, this traveler wasn’t the only unconventional aspect of the night. The congresswoman’s bipartisan voting record has garnered criticism from both Republicans and her own party. Her answers to written questions on Wednesday were likewise not along a single line: She was in support of nationalizing drug manufacturing; right-to-repair legislation; government-funded broadband; less federal involvement in housing restrictions and creation; funding career and technical education but not approving student debt relief; and cutting back on fossil fuels but only when the infrastructure  becomes available in rural parts of Southwest Washington.

On a concrete slab, in front of a crowd of a few dozen, Gluesenkamp Perez sat beside Lewis County Commissioner Scott Brummer, R-Winlock, who represents the county’s commissioner district 3. Most of the eastern, central and southern parts of Lewis County fall into the very rural district, including Toledo. 

“While I represent you at the county level, she represents you at the federal level,” Brummer said of the congresswoman beside him. “While we may be on different sides of the aisle, obviously, we still need to find common ground and work together for the benefit of those that we represent. And so, that’s my role being here tonight.” 

The town hall saw an hour of questions for the Skamania County Democrat read by the Lewis County Republican. Many items were those addressed in recent town halls and discussions, including one in Packwood earlier this month. 

Gluesenkamp Perez spent Wednesday making stops throughout Lewis County, beginning with a visit to the Centralia Police Department to meet with the Joint Narcotics Enforcement Team (JNET), where she said they’d recently confiscated 20,000 fentanyl pills.

She also visited the Veterans Memorial Museum to see the Veterans Affairs (VA) Puget Sound Health Care mobile clinic; the Chehalis River Basin Flood Zone Control District, which has proposed a flood retention facility upstream of Pe Ell; and the dairy farm of Maynard Mallonee, a fourth-generation Boistfort resident.


On veterans

Relevant to recent criticism from her opponent in the 2022 election and to Gluesenkamp Perez’s museum visit, Brummer read: “Debbie asks, ‘What are you doing for veterans as far as getting a clinic back in Lewis County to serve the large populations of veterans?”

The congresswoman responded that losing the clinic “was devastating. I take very seriously the deal that we made with veterans. Like, ‘You serve our country. And we are going to make sure you have access to high quality medical care.’ And we're not meeting that deal. We’re just not.”

The mobile medical unit at the Veterans Memorial Museum was a hot congressional topic prior to Gluesenkamp Perez’s election. Two years ago, in August of 2021, the VA Puget Sound shuttered a permanent clinic in Chehalis. With the nearest one in Olympia, veterans in Lewis County, especially those on the east end, have had more difficulty getting care.

By her opponent in the last race, Joe Kent, R-Yacolt, who has already pledged to run again, Gluesenkamp Perez was criticized for voting against the VA’s annual funding, alongside other Democrats in the House. When asked about that vote in the Packwood town hall earlier this month, Gluesenkamp Perez said the legislation included $168 billion less than the “agreed upon” amount, calling it “defunding” the VA.

U.S. Census data from 2020 says Lewis County’s population is 9.7% plus or minus 1.8%. Thurston County’s percentage is higher, at 13.6% plus or minus 1.3%, but both are above the state average of 8.2% plus or minus .2%. For comparison, with a similar total population size to Thurston, Yakima County has a veteran population of 5.4% plus or minus .7%. King, the state’s most populous county, has a veteran population of 4.9% plus or minus .3%. 

While the population of veterans in Lewis County may be smaller than others in total, Veterans Memorial Museum Executive Director Chip Duncan said he felt the VA Puget Sound was ignoring the per capita rate. Despite letters from former Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, and Gluesenkamp Perez speaking to the issue on the House floor, the Chehalis clinic has not been reinstated. 

She recently had an amendment to the Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act passed that would require the VA to report satisfaction of veteran care county-by-county.

Because the Congressional district abuts the Oregon border, she said, Gluesenkamp Perez has met with people who attend the Portland VA, who are mostly happy with their care.

“What I believe is that the Puget Sound really is not delivering a level of rural care to rural veterans that’s acceptable,” Gluesenkamp Perez told the crowd on Wednesday when asked about her action toward a Chehalis clinic.

She later added, “I got to get into the mobile medical unit and meet with providers there. These are nurses and administrators who, they share (these concerns) by the way, these folks want to be out there. They’re on our team, they want to be more present, available. They know they are really filling a gap in necessary service.”

Gluesenkamp Perez also spoke about an amendment on the same act she passed that would require direct reporting to Congress before any VA clinics are closed. The Military Construction, Veterans Affairs and Related Agencies Appropriations Act will now go to the U.S. Senate. 

“We have been very forward and pressuring them (the VA Puget Sound) to get answers about their service. I feel that our office has not been responded to adequately,” Gluesenkamp Perez said. 



The congresswoman was also asked about housing and homelessness — one topic not specifically addressed in Packwood. 

Brummer read, “Megan asks, ‘What are you doing to fight homelessness as the district grows and housing becomes more and more unaffordable?’”

“Housing prices are going up, people are getting pushed out. You’re seeing a lot of different pressures increasing homelessness. It’s becoming more and more visible,” Gluesenkamp Perez said.

She later added, though, “I think to a lot of us, it feels evident that part of the homelessness crisis is also part of the drug crisis and the fentanyl crisis.”

When mentioning the 20,000 fentanyl pills she saw when meeting with JNET, the congresswoman said, “You’ve just got to wonder which one of these is the one that was going to kill someone that I care about?” 

Further complicating law enforcement’s response to fentanyl, she said, is the difficulty rural police departments currently face when hiring at competitive rates. 

Gluesenkamp Perez, 35, spoke to the troubles of people her age to afford home ownership. It’s notable that she and her husband built and own their own home in Skamania County, which she said cost them $180,000 with her husband’s engineering work. That was mostly with their own labor, however, and she said building federally funded affordable housing averages $400,000 per unit.

Gluesenkamp Perez said she supports federal legislation that prioritizes housing assistance dollars to communities that have streamlined their zoning and building codes. 

Read more about Gluesenkamp Perez’s proposed and sponsored federal legislation at