ILWACO — One month into her job as the region’s representative to the 112th Congress, Jaime Herrera Beutler squeezed in a trip back to her home state to meet with Pacific County Commissioners at the Port of Ilwaco office Tuesday, Feb. 1.

After a visit and lunch at Jessie’s (where Port Manager Jim Neva confirmed, “Yes, Pierre wore his shorts and stockings — he doesn’t change his clothes for anyone”), Herrera Beutler settled into a conversation of 45 minutes with the commissioners around the conference table overlooking the port.

Seeing Commissioner Jon Kaino, just back from meetings in Olympia that required a suit and tie, she began by making a joke about dressing casually. “I’ve just been at a shredding facility [Pacific Coast Shredding in Vancouver] so I’m in jeans and boots,” said Herrera Beutler.

“Jeans are always acceptable attire in Pacific County,” said Kaino.

 

Support for Water Resources Maintenance

Herrera Beutler started on a high note, explaining that she has been appointed to the Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittees and will be vice-chair of the Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction over the Army Corps of Engineers.

“I’ve been meeting to talk about the maintenance and dredging at the mouth of the Columbia River. I consider this a regional responsibility,” said Herrera Beutler. 

Dredging that keeps smaller ports, like Ilwaco and Cathlamet, open is critical to both the commercial and sports fisheries; and Herrera Beutler is just getting her feet wet on these topics of concern for the county.

“The Army Corps budget is actually a line-item — that’s always how the budget has been put together,” she said. “So I’m not against all line-items as long as they go through the ‘light of day’ process.”

“There has been a lot of unnecessary spending — it’s gotten ridiculous — but the members of Congress should be accountable, so if their names are attached to a spending item there’s an accountability factor at work there,” she added.

Commissioner Bud Cuffel brought to her attention another water issue — the spartina eradication in Willapa Bay. He wanted to emphasize the need to continue the efforts to keep spartina in check. Herrera Beutler knew about this issue and also mentioned the growing concern about eel grass.

Kaino explained that there are two kinds of eel grass, or Japonica, one native species and one non-native. 

“The state weed board hasn’t designated eel grass as a Class A noxious weed yet, so we’re just watching now. But we don’t want it to get to be a problem on the same order as the spartina,” said Kaino.

Debt ceiling and budget

Cuffel brought the discussion back to budget issues and asked if spending accountability would actually be placed into law.

“We have a general agreement I think,” said Herrera Beutler, “but it’s more of a ‘self-ban’ while we get our fiscal house in order.” 

The representative was asked if she would vote for or against raising the debt ceiling. The Treasury Department said recently it expected the $14.3 trillion debt ceiling to be hit sometime between April 5 and May 3. If lawmakers do not agree on another short-term measure that funds the government for the rest of the year, they risk a government shut-down. 

Although the GOP campaigned on decreasing the nation’s debt by $100 billion, House Republicans have only suggested $32 billion in budget cuts. 

“Some significant budget changes would be needed in order for me to vote on the debt ceiling,” she said.

“During the last crisis Republicans voted to raise the debt ceiling — no Democrats voted to raise it,” Kaino pointed out. “It has to pass the smell test.”

Using an analogy of consumer debt to answer, Herrera Beutler said, “I’m not intending to raise a credit card level without proof that the person won’t keep spending. Under the eight-year Bush administration, spending rose by 53 percent, adding to our debt.”

Working issues in both House and Senate

On the issue of job creation, Herrera Beutler said, “I have yet to figure out what the Commerce Department does except challenge small business. I’m looking at projects of regional significance, like projects at the mouth of the Columbia which are actually important to the whole inland region as well.”

Cuffel indicated that maintenance of the jetties was another instance where budget support was critical to our area.

Herrera Beutler agreed. “This can have implications all the way to Idaho. I have a lot to learn on the waterways subcommittee. I need to learn more about the issues so that I can allocate funds properly.”

When asked how closely she was in contact with Sens. Murray and Cantwell, Herrera Beutler indicated that she and Murray have made plans to talk. “I know there are issues we won’t see eye to eye on — we acknowledged that — but Patty has a big role in transportation in this area and we will be working together. I called Cantwell’s office but I have not heard back from her yet.”

When asked about the Chinook Nation’s recognition bill, Herrera Beulter said that as far as she knew the bill was dead but indicated the state senators would be in a better position to comment.

HUD spending and redistricting 

Lisa Ayers put in a plug for continued support of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and Central Business District (CBD) funding of $8 million in the region. 

“This HUD and CBD spending helps primarily our low- to moderate-income citizens and has supported senior housing, seniors centers, sewer and water projects,” said Ayers. “We have several projects that could be affected if this spending is cut — like the Chinook Water District, and the extension of the Seaview sewer system.”

“I hope you will continue to support these projects,” Ayers said.

Another issue is the recently completed census, which indicates that Washington state will gain one U.S. House seat. When asked how Herrera Beutler would address any redistricting effort she said, “Technically, we don’t have any input on this questions.”

“But I know there has been talk of Norm [Dicks, (D), 6th District] taking Pacific County and putting his coastal lands together — but there may also be some advantage to having more voices representing the coast.”

“In the House it’s all about numbers,” she added.

Herrera Beutler mentioned that she grew up on a chicken farm in Hockinson, a tiny town near Brush Prairie. She and Ayers shared a moment when Ayers said, with surprise, “I know where that is — my husband grew up there,” said Ayers. 

“Wow, usually no one knows where Hockinson is!” Herrera Beutler said.

Commissioners against Wildlife Refuge expansion

Kaino took the opportunity of having Herrera Beutler in town to restate the county commissioners’ opposition to expansion of local national wildlife refuges.

As Cuffel said, “We’re not too excited about expanding the refuge boundaries. Kaino continued, “Charlie and the board of commissioners have agreed to disagree.” 

Kaino made an argument for not designating further acreage within refuge boundaries. Although the wildlife refuge is requesting an expansion of boundaries, the proposal is a plan only; in the future, no land could actually be acquired for wildlife use unless there is a willing seller. (The comment period is open through March 7.)

Herrera Beutler said, “If this is something I can help with, let me know.”

Productive meeting

“I value up front and direct communications,” Herrera Beutler emphasized. “You all are my priority. I am interested in becoming an important player on the hill and I want to see the people in this region prosper.”

“Brian Baird left big shoes to fill — but you have an open door with me,” she added.

“Yes, Brian thought for himself,” said Kaino. “He took stands that weren’t always popular with his party. He voted against going into Iraq, for instance, but then supported the surge. That kind of independent thinking is what our area needs.”

Herrera Beutler, acknowledging it was a “whirlwind tour” of the district, was concluding her trip with visits to Open Box Creations in Cathlamet and Longview Fiber.

Rep. Herrera Beutler can be reached at 202-225-3536 in her Washington DC office or 360-695-6292. Her website is www.herrerabeutler.house.gov.

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