Jaime Herrera Beutler Reflects on Service, Wins for Lewis County as Term Ends


Calling Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Battle Ground, who has served in the U.S. House of Representatives for over a decade, one might expect the background droll of congressional staff or the muttering of corporate lobbyists.

This was not the case Wednesday. Instead, background — sometimes foreground — noise consisted of children singing.

“They just watched The Lion King for the first time and they’re singing those songs, on and on, at the top of their lungs,” she told The Chronicle with a laugh.

A 44-year-old Battle Ground resident, Herrera Beutler’s journey to motherhood is a story itself, a battle she fought as hard as any in Congress. But, while motherhood lasts, the loss in her most recent bid for reelection means the Republican congresswoman had just days remaining in her role on Wednesday. With the New Year upcoming, she reflected on her career so far: wins at home, lessons learned and the “fierce” independent spirit she loves in the people of Southwest Washington — the same independence she admits got her into trouble at times.


A Pollster’s Equation

After the events of the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, Herrera Beutler was one of just 10 House Republicans who voted to impeach then-president Donald Trump. She released a statement at the time recognizing that voting to impeach him could “alienate Republican voters,” but finished saying the party would be best served “when those among us choose truth.”

While the vote endeared her to some, it also gave rise to the candidate who would oust her from the primary in August: Joe Kent, R-Yacolt, who described himself as not minding being called “far-right” in a previous interview with The Chronicle. 

Despite Trump’s stamp of approval, Kent lost to Skamania County (population: 12,000) Democrat Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, much to the surprise of pollsters and news outlets. Even The New York Times called Kent “likely” to win.

But if you ask Herrera Beutler, the district is nuanced beyond what polling equations can fathom.

She was raised in the area after being born in California. Asked why she stayed, Herrera Beutler said it was in part due to the region’s wealth of natural beauty, including the Pacific Ocean and Cascades. Moreso, though, it was a passionate community.

“That pioneering spirit is very much alive and well here,” she said. 

As an example, she illustrated a memory from the 2007 Chehalis River flood: “FEMA had come and set up these tents and wanted to serve food and take care of everybody. And the FEMA people were beside themselves like, ‘Nobody’s coming to the tents.’ And we all chuckled. … We’re like, ‘Yeah, because they’re all helping their neighbors muck out their homes. Nobody is going to sit there and wait for the federal government to serve them.’”

After moving from the state Legislature to Congress in 2011, the Washington Republican said her main goal as a representative was to solve problems for constituents, whether that meant flexing her title with the right agency or connecting residents to the next person who could help.

“I never started a meeting in my office or with a constituent like, ‘I’m Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler.’ The only time I’ve ever done that is with bureaucrats. … It’s important not for your own self-promotion, it’s important so they understand that you understand you’re not speaking for yourself. You’re speaking for 750,000 people, and you will do everything you can to draw attention to this issue.”

Herrera Beutler recounted two times where she used her title “as a hammer” for Lewis County. The first was for Veterans Affairs (VA) services, the second was when working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on flood control in the Chehalis River Basin.


‘Get the Congresswoman Off Our Backs’

After the VA closed its Chehalis clinic in 2021, Herrera Beutler went to bat for the rural county’s veterans, many of whom would be adding another hour to their commute from home to the nearest clinic. Her support came through letters to the VA, sending staff members to 8 a.m. breakfast meetings in Randle with disillusioned veterans, hosting meetings at the Veterans Memorial Museum in Chehalis and teaming with the museum to establish a Mobile Medical Unit there once a week.

While Lewis County’s battle for VA care was far from finished, Herrera Beutler said she was most proud of the team’s case work with individual veterans and their families. 

“The biggest challenge, it seemed like, was connecting the dots for the veterans, which generally meant helping them jump through hoops and check off boxes that the VA was putting in front of them,” she said. 

Establishing the Mobile Medical Unit took months of letters and emails back and forth. One day, she said she received an accidentally-forwarded email from VA staff pleading for help to “get the congresswoman off our backs.” 

She felt this was reminiscent of her goal when first being elected to Congress.

“Do not take ‘no’ for an answer. So when a constituent comes to us and they need help with something, it feels like oftentimes an agency’s first response is ‘No.’ So our job is to get people to ‘Yes,’” Herrera Beutler said, later adding, “99% of the time you can get to ‘yes’ if you’re willing to follow up and follow up again.”


‘Significant Progress’ for Fish and Flood

The 2007 flood happened while Herrera Beutler was serving as a state representative and her name was still “Jaime Herrera.” When elected to Congress, division in the Chehalis River Basin on the issues of aquatic species and flood control was halting progress for either goal.

Further, the Army Corps of Engineers, seeing flood water over Interstate 5 halt commerce for days, developed a plan to wall off I-5 with the hope to prevent it from inundation. 

Locals balked at the plan as it promised to hold back more water in their homes and businesses, essentially, to keep dollars flowing.

“They were doing just ridiculous, really costly studies and pushing a flood protection plan that the community rightly hated,” Herrera Beutler said. “In 2012, the first big thing I got to do on it was, I think I was on the House floor, and it was to block that walling off proposal. … I really felt like my job was to be the one that kept the Army Corps at the table and a willing partner.”

She credited the community for finding a way to move forward and for Gov. Jay Inslee and predecessor Christine Gregoire for maintaining the work group that has advanced flood protection and species restoration.

“I think there is consensus that flood and fish are both essential,” Herrera Beutler said. “Even though it's been slow and painful, that represents, I think, significant progress towards a solution.”


Room to Grow

Asked where the district has room for growth and issues she hopes her successor will focus on, Herrera Beutler keyed in on crime, border security and forest health.

Lambasting police reform laws passed by the state Legislature in 2021, she referred to law enforcement officers in Washington as being essentially handcuffed.

She spoke about a recent visit to the country’s southern border, calling it a “humanitarian crisis” that she said has allowed drugs, namely fentanyl, to travel up the I-5 corridor. With those police reform laws in place and a recent state Supreme Court decision on drug possession, she said she felt the region’s rules have attracted more crime.

Herrera Beutler said she based her opinions on the issue from a “listening tour” with the Joint Narcotics Task Force, based in Centralia, along with other law enforcement departments across her district. She added hope that Gluesenkamp Perez would be willing to do the same once sworn in.

“I’m one of those who believes in fair, legal immigration. … I support that. The problem is it’s not being enforced at all,” Herrera Beutler said.

She also expressed hope Gluesenkamp Perez would focus on finding a balance between economic and environmental health related to forests in rural counties such as Lewis. Supporting a conscientious logging industry, navigable forest service roads and preventing wildfires were all issues Herrera Beutler named as challenges facing the district. So far, the congresswoman said she was encouraged by her successor’s action on this issue.

Between the two, with the help of U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Washington, legislation recently passed to shift acreage from the possession of the U.S. Forest Service to Skamania County, which Herrera Beutler called her “cherry on top” of her term.

“I’m hopeful (because) our new representative and I talked about some of this. I think she will turn her attention to getting our forests healthy again,” she said.



For the 3rd District’s future, Herrera Beutler tempered her concerns with hope. In terms of growth potential, wealth of natural resources, trade ability and collaborative communities, she said, “I honestly see nothing but opportunity. We do have to take the opportunity and make something of it. And that is one of the things I love about Lewis County, is … they’re so collaborative in their approach. The community links arms to do things together and they look for opportunities.”

As for the soon-to-be ex-congresswoman’s opportunities, she said she’s unsure of what will come next. Finding a job where every day presents a valuable fight will be tough, she said, but certainly possible. 

“For closing out, I just would say ‘Thank you,’ to Lewis County. I loved getting to come to the county itself,” Herrera Beutler said. “I treat ‘Republican-Democrat’ very loosely in this job. But I do love having a county on the west side where more people agree with you than disagree with free markets and individual liberty and self-determination. Those are all things I value.”