WASHINGTON — The last time Marie Gluesenkamp Perez was at the U.S. Capitol, on a class trip in the ninth grade, she never imagined she would come back as a newly elected member of Congress.
In an interview Tuesday on Capitol Hill, where she was participating in new member orientation, Washington's newest federal lawmaker said being chosen by voters to represent southwest Washington's 3rd congressional district was "a surprise, but it's an honor."
"A lot of people are kind of making the story about me as an individual, but the goal is that we just see more normal people running for Congress," the Democrat said. "More people that are respected in their communities, that work hard, that live like the rest of America does. There are so many of us out there and it is so hard to make your way though, and I feel really, really honored that my community made the sacrifices it took to get me here."
Rep.-elect Gluesenkamp Perez pulled off perhaps the biggest upset of the 2022 elections, narrowly beating Republican Joe Kent for a seat held for a dozen years by Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, a moderate Republican who was ousted in the primary by GOP voters angry over her vote to impeach then-President Donald Trump for inciting the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021.
Kent, who was endorsed by Trump and backed the former president's false claim that the 2020 election was stolen, has not yet conceded the race. The former Green Beret was favored to win the solidly conservative district, but some local Republicans, who found Kent too extreme, backed his Democratic opponent.
Gluesenkamp Perez, who owns an auto repair shop and hasn't yet run out of automotive metaphors, said she believes voters in the district sent her to Congress "not to get wrapped around the axle about stuff that does not make people's lives better."
"To fix stuff is the mandate," she said. "We've had enough of the partisanship and just the ugliness of division, and letting Twitter set the agenda. It's not right. It's not working for us."
Gluesenkamp Perez said she has already exchanged text messages with Herrera Beutler, who will continue to represent the district until the end of the year, and the two women are planning to meet next week. The Democrat said she wants to join the Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of bipartisan lawmakers of which her Republican predecessor is a member.
While it can be tough for freshman lawmakers to have an impact in the House, where seniority brings influential committee assignments, Gluesenkamp Perez said her focus will be on helping her constituents navigate the federal government — she gave the example of dealing with the Small Business Administration — and focusing on bipartisan priorities like infrastructure, including replacing the I-5 bridge over the Columbia River.
While she is likely to face a tough GOP challenge in 2024, Gluesenkamp Perez said she wants to avoid the short-term thinking that can come with facing re-election every two years, instead focusing on "positioning us for long-term economic strength" by supporting small businesses and improving career and technical education programs.
"Supporting a trade school, that doesn't fix our workforce shortage today, but it stops one from coming 10 years down the road," she said. "I'm here for long-term thinking."