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Talking With Marie Gluesenkamp Perez
March 17, 2023
by William P. Meyers

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A grounded person and bright problem-solver

It did not go at all as I had imagined. I had given a donation to the Marie Gluesenkamp Perez campaign for Congress last fall after reading about the unusual situation in her district. The moderate former representative in the U.S. Congress, Jaime Herrera Butler, a Republican, had come in third in the Washington State top two, non-partisan primary of 2022. Marie came in first with 31% of the vote, followed by Joe Kent, a Republican running appealing to the Trump wing of the party. While Marie was widely expected to loose in the traditionally Republican district, she was the owner of an automobile repair shop. I work all the time with Democratic Party people with law degrees and PhDs who love to talk about how the working class should vote Democratic. A candidate with hands-on experience appealed to me. I have limited money to give to political campaigns. In 2022 most of it I gave to either local north Seattle Democrats who won easily or candidates in my home town of Jacksonville, Florida who all got crushed by Republicans. The only race where my donation might have made a difference was Marie's. She won by less than 3,000 votes.

Recently Congress person Gluesenkamp Perez had an article about her in the New York Times, A New Voice for Winning Back Democratic Voters. At least a couple of times during and since the fall election I have received solicitations to attend fundraisers for Marie in Seattle. But I was not in a mood to donate more immediately after the election. When I received a recent invitation to a fundraiser I saw two choices, one on Mercer Island and one in Pioneer Square near downtown Seattle. These fundraisers tend to have big ticket prices, but on checking out the downtown one I saw I could get a ticket for $100. And I knew I could take public transportation for a total cost of just $2, round trip. Most of the Democrats I know in Seattle are from my local state legislative district. I thought this might be a way to see who the rich and powerful donors of Seattle are. So I bought a ticket.

I tend to be anxious about all future social engagements. I thought of what I might say to Marie should I have a chance to talk to her, but mainly I thought there would be a bunch of people there swarming her. Usually no one pays much attention to me unless I get the Chair's recognition at a meeting. The fundraiser was billed as a wine tasting. I figured I would just sip and watch unless there was someone present who wanted to talk to someone new, or someone I already was friends with. My main concern was whether they were going to raise extra money by selling the wine. How much would it cost? I reminded myself I am not all that poor.

The event was scheduled for 7 PM, after the Mercer Island event. I had dinner at home with my wife, then watched BBC news for a few minutes before leaving to catch the bus. I could have checked the app to see when one was expected to arrive, but they run about every 20 minutes, so I just left when I was ready to walk the two blocks to the stop. There was a junkie acting strange at the bus stop, but he did not appear dangerous. When the bus came he did not get on the bus, but there was already another junkie at the front of the bus. There had been a stabbing the day before at the light rail station I was headed to, so I was on my guard. The bus dropped me off near the station, so I walked another block to the entrance. There were just a few people at the station. Even though my train was going towards town, there were pretty many people on it, so it seemed safe, at least the car I was in.

I got off at Pioneer Square. There were the usual homeless people around, but no one acting out of control. I noted the architecture, the old buildings, in that part of town were cool, but some of the buildings seemed abandoned. I walked to the event space, the Browne Family Vineyards Tasting Room. No one was there except one customer and one employee who was putting up a sign saying Private Event. I was not early. It was seven. The employee welcomed me and said yes, this was where the event would be. I thought maybe everyone went to Mercer Island and were delayed getting into Seattle. Events starting late are not a surprise in politics, but usually when you have paid for a ticket there is a table set up, well in advance, with someone to check you in. A young (to me, I am ancient) woman walked in and we chatted and I learned she is a friend of Darya Farivar, our new, very young, 46th legislative district representative in Olympia. An organizer came in and another attendee. We got name badges, or at least printed labels. We were encouraged to get some wine while waiting for the Congresswoman. I talked to the bartender a bit and decided on the Red Blend.

Marie explaining

I was sitting, chatting with the two other attendees. I don't know how much time had passed, just a couple of minutes. In came Marie with another aide. She said hello and sat down right across the table from me. She looked just like her campaign pictures. We started chatting, and after welcomes and thanks quickly move to politics. I asked a question or two or made brief comments, mostly she talked about some positions and about Congress. For instance I asked her about Spring Wheat (because I am becoming an expert on famine) and she said it is a crop grown in her district. More people drifted in to listen, lining up behind her. At some point she realized her main audience was behind her so she got up and moved her chair back so we could all sit in a circle.

It was a small crowd. There were just 11 of us there aside from Maria and her campaign aides. It was great. Everyone who wanted to could ask a question or make a comment. Maria handled everything very well. At least in interacting with ordinary people (okay, donors) she is a natural born politician. She explained to us how she approached issues in a largely Republican district. She understands how rural and working class people (particularly the non-union working class, which is most of it) live and think. First of all, she would not use the term working class, that was me. She said when Republicans attacked Pell Grants and student loan forgiveness as give-aways, she talked about extending Pell grants to trade schools and training. You can get Pell grants for junior college and college, but not trade school. She talked about programs that would help working people, like free training for child care workers.

I had a great time. It was the best discussion of practical politics I have ever witnessed. I tend to be to the left of mainstream Democrats, but I know that fourth generation upper-middle class Democrats with PhDs often don't communicate well with people who are struggling economically. The Republicans figured that out, even though they go to great length to screw workers when in power. Republicans are not all alike. Neither are independents. For that matter, not all Democrats spend their days pondering how they can be more Woke. Her opponent's near-crazy right wing views (including that Trump and other Republicans had the election stolen from them) certainly helped Marie get elected. But I think most Progressive Democrats would have lost the race. They would have emphasized the wrong issues and used the wrong words and examples to communicate.

The world is in a precarious state. Democrats will need to win the Presidency, regain the House, and hold the Senate in 2024 if we are to have a chance to muddle through our troubles. Republicans are already gunning for Marie. We need to keep her in office, and we need more people like her who can win people back from the Republican Party. We also need inspired grass roots campaigners. There is room for a spectrum of people in our party. Not everyone wants to identify as a socialist or a they/them. Tolerance is good, but we also need to speak to, and act on, the material needs of the majority of people. I think Marie Gluesenkamp Perez is be one of the exemplars we need to create a party that is truly inclusive and effective.

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