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Opinion | A New Voice for Winning Back Lost Democratic Voters

by Staff

She mentioned Representatives Jared Golden of Maine and Mary Peltola of Alaska, and Senators Jon Tester of Montana and John Fetterman of Pennsylvania, as examples of elected officials with an unusually broad appeal because they understand the priorities of their districts or states.

In her case, those priorities center on relieving economic despair and providing a future for young people who have a hard time seeing one, particularly if they are not college-bound. Pacific County, on the western end of her district, had an 8.4 percent unemployment rate in January, compared to the 3.4 percent rate in tech-saturated King County, home of Seattle, just 150 miles to the northeast. Not everyone needs a four-year college degree, or is able to get one, but the economy isn’t providing enough opportunities for those who don’t take that path. Many high school students in her districts are never going to wind up in the chip factories that get so many headlines, or the software firms further north, but without government support they can’t even get a foothold in the construction trades.

She supports what has become known on Capitol Hill as “workforce Pell” — the expansion of Pell grants to short-term skills training and apprenticeship programs, many of which are taught in community colleges. The idea has won approval among both conservative Republicans and Democrats like Senator Tim Kaine of Virginia. She said she could not hire older teenagers as apprentices in her auto repair shop because it would bump up her liability insurance. (A local nonprofit group has helped her shop and other businesses cover the extra cost, giving many students the opportunity for on-the-job training.)

“My generation was the one where they were cutting all the shop classes and turning them into computer programming classes,” Ms. Gluesenkamp Perez said. “It took 10 or 15 years for that to hit the market, but now, coupled with the retirement of a lot of skilled tradespeople, there’s a six-month wait for a plumber or a carpenter or an electrician. You’d better be married to one.”

She is also critical of putting certain environmental concerns ahead of human ones, a position sure to alienate some in her party.

“My mom grew up in Forks, Washington, which is sort of epicenter of the spotted owl, and that decimated jobs,” she said, referring to the federal decisions in the 1990s to declare the northern spotted owl as endangered, closing off millions of acres of old-growth forest to logging. “People had trouble feeding their families. That indignity cast a really long shadow. People felt like they were being told they couldn’t work.”

The Trump administration opened up much of that habitat to logging in its final days, but that decision was later reversed by the Biden administration. (The congresswoman hasn’t weighed in on that reversal.)

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