The Blue-Collar Democrat Who Wants to Fix the Party’s Other Big Problem (2024)

Magazine|The Blue-Collar Democrat Who Wants to Fix the Party’s Other Big Problem

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The Blue-Collar Democrat Who Wants to Fix the Party’s Other Big Problem (1)

Marie Gluesenkamp Perez flipped a rural red district to get to Congress. Now she wants to help her party do more of the same.

Representative Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, a Democrat, was elected to Washington’s Third Congressional District in 2022.Credit...Holly Andres for The New York Times

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By Jason Zengerle

Jason Zengerle is a contributing writer for the magazine who covers politics. He visited Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez in Washington, D.C., and in her home district for this article.

Late last year, Representative Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, a first-term Democrat from a rural district in Washington State, began receiving a deluge of alarmed texts from her friends. Before she was elected to Congress, in 2022, Gluesenkamp Perez ran an auto-repair shop with her husband; her professional and personal acquaintances still largely consist of people who work in the trades — construction, carpentry, woodworking. Now a number of those friends were venting about, of all things, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.

The C.P.S.C. had recently proposed a rule effectively requiring that all new table saws sold in the United States come equipped with a high-tech safety feature that stops and retracts the saw’s spinning blade within milliseconds of its making contact with flesh. The finger-saving technology has been likened to airbags in cars — a straightforward but ingenious safety solution — but many of Gluesenkamp Perez’s friends didn’t see it that way. They were worried that a government mandate would increase the cost of a new table saw by hundreds of dollars, while also giving SawStop, the company that developed the technology, an effective monopoly.

What may seem like a minor regulatory hiccup is to Gluesenkamp Perez emblematic of the disconnect between government and the governed that she has dedicated her short time in office to addressing. Too often, she believes, policymakers are not only disrespectful to people who work with their hands, but also ignorant of the reality of their day-to-day lives. “If the commission had had somebody who has worked in construction in the body, they would know that if you raise the cost of a table saw by $400, people are just going to put a circ saw on a sheet of plywood — and more people are going to lose their fingers,” she says. In April, she introduced legislation that would prohibit the commission from implementing the rule until five years after SawStop’s patent expires. (SawStop’s chief executive, Matt Howard, said that the company has promised not to enforce its patent once the rule is implemented.)

Sworn into Congress at age 34, with no previous experience as an elected official, Gluesenkamp Perez operates very differently from most of her fellow politicians. Interviewing prospective staff members, she’s as likely to ask them about what kind of car they own as about what kind of political experience they have. She hired her legislative director, in part, because the woman drove a Toyota Camry with 200,000 miles on it. “That says a lot,” Gluesenkamp Perez explains. But what really sets her apart is the way she thinks about the federal government itself — which she believes is woefully out of touch with the needs of working-class Americans.

Earlier this year, at a private dinner for Democratic representatives with Lina Khan, the chair of the Federal Trade Commission, Gluesenkamp Perez asked one question: “How many of your employees at the F.T.C. don’t have a college degree?” Khan couldn’t produce a number. Gluesenkamp Perez suspected that was because the answer is zero. (Through a spokesman, the F.T.C. said the actual figure is 8 percent.) To Gluesenkamp Perez, this served as further evidence of an overly academic, wonky approach to governance that produces bad, alienating policy. “I feel like in D.C., people have this idea that ‘equity’ is translating the lawyerly gobbledygook on government websites into Spanish,” she says. “That is not equity. Equity is being able to navigate the website with an eighth-grade reading level” — in English — “and without having to hire a compliance firm.”

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The Blue-Collar Democrat Who Wants to Fix the Party’s Other Big Problem (2024)


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