Kilmer bemoans nation’s partisan divide

Congressman Derek Kilmer (D-Gig Harbor) thinks his constituents are tired of partisan politics impeding Congress from progress on the issues that matter most to them, he said during a session with the The Daily World editorial board on April 6.

“The vast majority don’t give a rip if you’re on the left or the right, they just want the government to stop moving backward,” he said. “Most are exhausted with partisan politics and just want the government to move ahead.”

Kilmer has worked hard to build a reputation for bipartisanship and has served as co-chairman of something called the Bipartisan Working Group, a collection of a dozen Republicans and a dozen Democrats in the House. “Talks can get a little feisty,” he said, “but it’s kind of like a marriage. You may not necessarily agree, but you listen. The founding fathers intended for our government to be made up of different ideologies.”

The problem is that a partisan divide is baked into the process, in part because gerrymandering has created safe seats for members of both parties, which can be a disincentive to compromise, he said.

He told a story from his first term describing an impromptu meal with lawmakers from both sides. Kilmer said things were going well and he remarked that he thought they could really get something done by working together.

He said a Republican lawmaker looked across the table and said, “I like you,” but then went on to describe the reality. The Republican had run in a safely GOP district and unseated a Republican incumbent by being more conservative than the incumbent. The lawmaker told Kilmer that his constituents didn’t want him working with Democrats such as Kilmer and in fact, would want him to block Kilmer and the Democratic agenda.

Kilmer said he hasn’t been dissuaded that compromise is still possible, but it showed him that the institution needs fundamental, structural changes. One example of a positive change, he said, is efforts by both parties to give leadership opportunities to younger members, creating an apprenticeship situation for leadership spots on standing committees. Kilmer holds one of those spots in one of the appropriations committees he serves on.

Kilmer said the number of recent government shutdowns, or near shutdowns, are a sign “that a lot of things in Washington, D.C., are not working.” That’s a big deal when the biggest employer in his district is the federal government, he said.

He gave the example of a motel owner in Sequim, who spent a year trying to make up for the last government shutdown due to the business he lost when the Olympic National Park was closed.

The recent passage of a budget by Congress wasn’t perfect in Kilmer’s estimation but did give the government some stability.

“It wasn’t a perfect bill by any means, but it did get the country out of crisis mode,” he said.

Kilmer said the key to the country’s financial stability lies in bipartisan budget conversations that would keep the issue at the forefront and would lessen the possibility of shutdowns.

The budget did include some good news for area residents, including fisheries disaster funds to benefit fishing-related businesses that suffered during poor salmon returns over the previous few years. There were also billions of dollars set aside for rural broadband expansion; Kilmer said in his talks with a tribal leader recently that high school students were hindered because the area didn’t have broadband internet access. There was also money set aside for an earthquake early warning system, critical to the safety of residents of the Twin Harbors.

Kilmer said the issue of offshore oil exploration is getting very little national attention, despite its potential economic and ecological impacts for the area’s fish and shellfish industry. He said the reduction in financial aid for college students and eliminating federal support for Puget Sound restoration are also major blows to his constituents.

Kilmer was asked what Congress was going to do to “rein in” social media, asking why other media forms are subject to strict regulations regarding content and advertising while social media sources are “getting away with murder.”

“The internet is a powerful tool, and like all other tools, it can be abused,” said Kilmer. One thing that should be done is to create transparency as to who is paying for the ads on social media sites, he said. Political ads placed in other media venues are accounted for and the public can see who placed them and paid for them. He is a co-sponsor on a bi-partisan bill titled the Honest Ads Act that would protect “the public’s right to know who’s trying to influence elections.”

On Friday, Facebook announced it supports the legislation, to which Kilmer replied, “I’m encouraged by Facebook’s endorsement of the Honest Ads Act. Citizens deserve to know who pays for the ads they are seeing in their newsfeeds. Today’s news is good, but the internet is bigger than one company. Whether it comes from Russia or a deep-pocketed special interest group, there is too much money in politics. Congress should quickly pass the Honest Ads Act and take further action to safeguard our elections.”

Other issues on Kilmer’s radar include the realignment of the management of the Veteran’s Administration. “Basically if you serve your country we should have your back,” he said. Another agency that needs some stability is the Forest Service, which had to spend about 60 percent of its budget fighting fires last season. He’s sponsoring a bipartisan bill to make sure the Forest Service is more stable when it comes to funding.

When asked about the effectiveness of Nancy Pelosi as the Democratic leader in the House, he said, “To me the focus is not on who is in the leadership role but how to have a more functional Congress, not the Hatfields and McCoys.”

As for the Twin Harbors’ lagging economy, Kilmer said the key is providing a good education and creating jobs that will keep the area’s best and brightest young people here, instead of forcing them to seek a more profitable existence in more prosperous counties like Pierce, King and Skagit counties.

“Part of the reason I worked on the flood control issue was to draw opportunity here,” said Kilmer, saying the large amount of property that requires federal flood insurance is something that keeps companies from locating to the region.