LONG BEACH — Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler stopped by the Chinook Observer last week for a discussion. During her visit, she and Observer staff talked about her current focuses and the transition of leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Herrera Beutler is a Republican who has held her role since 2011. She represents Pacific, Lewis, Wahkiakum, Cowlitz, Clark, Skamania, Klickitat and Thurston counties.
CO: What is your reaction to the pushback from President Donald Trump’s base to your opposition of his emergency declaration?
JHB: “ I should have known there would be some confusion,” Herrera Beutler said.
Herrera Beutler said she isn’t against declaring emergencies and that the point of her disapproval of the declaration isn’t who declared the emergency but rather that it’s a “constitutional issue,” as the money is coming from unappropriated funds.
“You don’t want to throw the Constitution out,” Herrera Beutler said. “It means Congress needs to do the work of getting the money appropriated.”
CO: Do you have any plans to hold in-person town hall meetings?
JHB: “For me and my purpose, the goal isn’t the medium, the goal is the communication,” Herrera Beutler said. “In the last part of last year, I had over 12,000 people on the phone through my different telephone town halls. I’ve never even come close to that number adding altogether [at in-person town halls].”
Herrera Beutler said she isn’t opposed to doing an in-person town hall. However, she thinks there’s a different reason for doing them.
“Anybody who asks for me, I meet with. We don’t self-select those, it’s an open door policy. Maybe 75 percent of those are people who come to disagree with me on something,” Herrera Beutler said. “We’ve never turned someone like that away. Those are probably most of my meetings right now.”
Herrera Beutler said her purpose for doing in-person town halls is to “give a platform there for them to have me come cover it and make a point.”
“I’m not opposed to that but my goal generally is what am I working on, can I let the people in my district know and can I hear their feedback about what they want changed or what they like,” Herrera Beutler said.
She praised her telephone town halls as “very productive,” as people who participate aren’t doing it to make a political point but instead to “genuinely put me in the direction policy-wise.”
“It’s a free-flow, honest civil exchange of information,” Herrera Beutler said. “I’ve never shied away from or am afraid of difficult questions. I get them all the time.”
CO: What has your experience been transitioning from the House majority to minority? What does this mean for your office and your constituents?
JHB: “I feel like my office has figured out how to be effective regardless of whose in the White House, whose in the Senate,” Herrera Beutler said. “But I’m not going to lie, it’s pretty great when you have Republican control of the Senate and the White House. An honest Democrat would be saying the same thing.”
The big difference, Herrera Beutler said, is that being in the majority leadership makes moving bills through the legislative process “a little bit easier.”
She noted that in the last Congress, she sponsored bipartisan bills on maternal mortality, sea lions and Advancing Care for Exceptional Kids (ACE).
“From my view it’s like how do I get my bills scheduled? That’s what I’m interested in,” Herrera Beutler said. “We had some great wins. You question what’s going to happen with that, I don’t know.”
Herrera Beutler emphasized the importance of working with Democratic House leaders to get bipartisan legislation passed. She was ranked the 15th most bipartisan member of Congress for 2017 by Georgetown University’s Lugar Center.
“It wasn’t just lip service during a campaign, that’s how I’ve operated,” Herrera Beutler said. “We’re still going to be able move important, crucial pieces of legislation forward for people here.”
CO: Are you concerned about a primary challenger?
JHB: “No,” Herrera Beutler said. “I’ve had them before and would be surprised if I had them again.”
“I really feel like I’m the right fit for this district. I am right of center. I make no bones about it. I’m not on the Democrat ticket in any way,” Herrera Beutler said. “However, when I needed to stand up to the President I’d do it.”
Herrera Beutler acknowledged that her district is different from urban areas such as Seattle and Portland, as well as Eastern Washington. She thinks most residents in her district are right of center and if they’re Democrat, “they’re not with some of the national movement that’s happening.”
“Ultimately when I look at this district, people expect that independence. I have seen it term after term,” Herrera Beutler said. “That’s what people actually trust and want.”
CO: What are some specific issues you’re working on in regard to Pacific County?
JHB: Herrera Beutler said she’s been continuing work on the ports, small vessel discharge exemptions and the marbled murrelet.
“There was only 600,000 acres set aside federally and the bird is still declining,” Herrera Beutler said. “We’re continuing to fight that fight. The jury’s still out.”
Another focus is the legalization of marijuana.
“There’s lots of controversy about legalization but one thing has remained the same, it’s still illegal for minors,” Herrera Beutler said.
She’s worked to secure funding to prevent youth substance abuse through Willapa Behavioral Health and Safe and Drug Free Community Grants.
Herrera Beutler previously worked on ensuring constituents could receive healthcare at Columbia Memorial Hospital in Astoria. She recently became aware that some of her constituents who work as crabbers and oyster growers are struggling to provide healthcare for their employees. The struggle is caused because the Affordable Care Act requires users to work a certain number of hours.
“It’s not seasonal work but if you can’t fish at a certain time, you’re losing a month. People aren’t getting their hours in,” Herrera Beutler said. “We’re going to see if there’s any way we can get to the bottom of that because obviously the goal is for people to be covered but right now it’s prohibiting people from paying for coverage for their own employees, which is ridiculous.”
CO: What are the chances of progress for healthcare changes, including prescription costs?
JHB: “I’m really hopeful. This is one of the areas where I agree with the president. He’s right to say that we shouldn’t be subsidizing the drug costs for the entire world on the backs of American citizens,” Herrera Beutler said. “We need to bring down the cost of drug prices.”
Herrera Beutler said she’s a bill co-sponsor on reducing prescription drug costs and importing the same regulated safe drugs from Canada, as they are cheaper there than in the U.S.
“I believe in free markets absolutely but this is not a free market,” Herrera Beutler said. “The prescription drug world is a very highly regulated market. We’re paying too much and it’s got to change.”
Herrera Beutler hopes this Congress can tackle prescription drug costs.
CO: In a similar regard; what are the chances of progress for addressing the opioid crisis?
JHB: “I think we passed something near 60 different pieces of legislation in the last Congress.The President signed them into the law to the tune of around $6 billion just to start the fight on the opioid crisis,” Herrera Beutler said. “I think what we are recognizing is just how far behind we are.”
Herrera Beutler said she believes border security is related to the opioid crisis, as she’s talked to different sheriffs in her counties and been told about the “different influx” of certain drugs and mixtures being found.
She noted the different focuses of opioids that Congress is focusing on: enforcement, mental health, and how and who is using opioids.
“We’re woefully behind,” Herrera Beutler said. “When I say that we’ve done 60 bills and over $6 billion, it should sound like a lot but I really feel like it’s just a starting point in each of these places. This is one of the areas where there is bipartisan consensus. It’s going to be layer upon layer in terms of really bringing this to heal.”
CO: What changes have you seen in the district since the legislation passed?
JHB: “Its overall focus,” Herrera Beutler said. “What we’re dealing with that other areas are not is the legalization of marijuana. And the mixed messages, particularly among youth.”
Herrera Beutler said opioid use generally starts through using something “more easy to obtain and less socially stigmatizing.”
“There are parents who really just give [marijuana] to their kids thinking it’s not as dangerous as something else,” Herrera Beutler said. “We’re seeing a big increase in that in some of the more rural areas.”
Herrera Beutler said she has school districts and law enforcement asking her to help get funding for mental health.
“It’s all so tied together,” Herrera Beutler said. “What started this in this area for me was probably five or six years ago when we started seeing an increase in suicides in some of our schools. As we drilled down we realized it was all mixed together.”
Herrera Beutler said funding for related programs typically goes to more urban areas so she has been working to get funding for more rural areas.
“In some of these counties, the resources are more isolated. If a family is in crisis those kids are isolated,” Herrera Beutler said. “Some of these kids are dealing with things that a generation ago just wasn’t on the radar for most of us so we’re seeing a recognition of it in terms of trying to address it.”
CO: Thank you for taking the time to stop by and talk with us.
JHB: “Absolutely,” Herrera Beutler said. “We have fostered really good working relationships here. I’m here and I’d love to be able to stop by when it’s convenient.”