To ‘Keep Weirdos out of Congress’ and Fix Things That Matter
In 2022, Oregon voters fired a member of the Blue Dog Coalition in Congress. Later the same year, Washington voters elected his Blue Dog replacement.
The Blue Dog Coalition, which once boasted 70 Democratic members, shrunk as its members, including veteran Oregon Congressman Kurt Schrader, got picked off in primary elections by more progressive Democratic candidates or just quit before they were defeated.
In the current Congress, the Blue Dog Coalition has clawed back to 10 members with the recruitment of freshman Washington Congresswoman Marie Gluesenkamp-Perez, who captured a formerly Republican district by defeating a Trump-backed Republican.
The new crop of Blue Dogs share a moderate political viewpoint and, like Gluesenkamp-Perez, represent GOP-leaning districts. They also are younger and include women. All 10 are under 50 years old. A testament to her youthful vigor, Gluesenkamp-Perez jumped fully clothed into a public swimming pool to celebrate a win by the Wahkiakum High School robotics team at an international event.
Cross Party Lines
Sometimes members of the Blue Dog Coalition vote with Republicans, as Gluesenkamp-Perez did in support of the Department of Defense authorization measure that was stuffed with GOP-backed culture war amendments. Earlier, she was one of only two Democrats to vote against President Biden’s student loan forgiveness initiative.
On her website under achievements in her first six months in office, Gluesenkamp-Perez lists herself as the “seventh most frequent cosponsor of Republican bills among House Democrats”. She also touted introducing “eight bipartisan bills on issues including rural childcare, substance use treatment for pregnant and postpartum women, preserving AM radio in cars, right-to-repair and investing in forest management”.
Gluesenkamp-Perez is clearly positioning herself for a reprise challenge by Republican Joe Kent, whom she narrowly defeated in 2022. She benefitted from the support of disaffected backers of former Congresswoman Jaime Herrera-Beutler, who enraged GOP conservatives by voting to impeach President Trump after the January 6th assault on the Capitol. Herrera-Beutler reportedly may seek the GOP nomination for Washington governor next year.
Schrader, a veterinarian and farmer, argued his rural ties and membership in the Blue Dog Caucus made him a good fit for the 5th Congressional District. However, he angered progressive Democrats by voting against allowing Medicare to negotiate drug prices, who took their revenge by voting for Jamie McLeod-Skinner in the 2022 Democratic primary. McLeod-Skinner was defeated in the general election by Republican Lori Chavez-DeRemer. Shortly after his primary election loss, Schrader took a job with a Washington, DC lobby firm that represents the pharmaceutical industry.
Gluesenkamp-Perez and her husband own a Portland auto repair shop. A Texas native, Gluesenkamp-Perez earned a degree in economics from Reed College. Before her election to Congress, she had never sought or held elective office. In her 2020 election victory remarks, she said, “Right up to the end, far-away pundits and prognosticators said this race couldn’t be won. They dismissed the possibility that a moderate Democrat focused on prioritizing the needs of this district over partisan point scoring could win in a rural, working class district.
“It’s about creating a caucus where you’re free to represent your district and still be a Democrat.”
Blue Dog Caucus History
The Blue Dog Coalition says it “advocates for fiscal responsibility, a strong national defense and bipartisan consensus rather than conflict with Republicans”. The caucus dates back to 1995 following the so-called Republican Revolution that saw the GOP take control of the House and Senate for the first time in 40 years, Newt Gingrich became House Speaker.
Initially the Blue Dogs were social and fiscal conservatives, many from the South. Contemporary Blue Dogs tend to be socially liberal and fiscally conservative members who represent Republican-leaning districts. Gluesenkamp-Perez is one of three co-chairs of the caucus, along with Jared Golden of Maine and Mary Peltola of Alaska.
In an interview about the Blue Dog Coalition with The Washington Post, Golden described the goal of the caucus like this: “It’s about creating a caucus where you’re free to represent your district and still be a Democrat because of the shared values that we have with everyone else in our caucus, despite our differences.”
“We want to be the caucus that gets stuff done, and that’s what I associate with,” Peltola said in the same interview. “It doesn’t do me any good to be an ideologue.”
Gluesenkamp-Perez took a different tack in her interview response. “I do not think that, at its core, the trades community and rural communities are truly in the long term as well-served by modern Republican ideology. I believe it really is the Democratic Party that, in our history, believed in your rights to organize, the dignity of work.” In an earlier interview, she said, “I feel like there’s a lot of focus on messaging and a lot of people in D.C. need to touch some grass.”
After she arrived in Washington, DC and joined the Blue Gog Coalition, Gluesenkamp-Perez told Roll Call, “We defeated some pretty weird extremists to be here. I don’t know that much about the Blue Dogs’ history. I like who’s in it now, and I like the work we’re doing keeping weirdos out of Congress and trying to fix the things that keep people up at night.”
For Democrats to regain control of the House, Golden believes moderates will need to flip swing districts represented by Republicans. He says he anticipates expanding the Blue Dog Coalition membership in the next Congress. Gluesenkamp-Perez is doing her best to return to Congress and remain in the Blue Dog Coalition.
Oregon Members and Caucuses
It isn’t likely Oregon will elect anyone who will join the Blue Dogs. Freshman Congresswoman Val Hoyle in the 4thDistrict joined the Progressive Caucus. Veteran Congressman Earl Blumenauer is a member of 25 caucuses addressing wild salmon, fitness and human rights. Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici associates with 68 caucuses and is co-chair of 11 of them. Freshman Democratic Congresswoman Andrea Salinas was appointed to the Democratic Women’s leadership team as the liaison between caucuses for women and Latinas.
Fellow freshman Republican Congresswoman Lori Chavez-DeRemer is a member of the Building Trades Caucus, Congressional Hispanic Conference and Problem-Solvers Caucus. Congressman Cliff Bentz lists 14 caucus associations dealing with climate, oceans, rural health, wine and cheese.