To say Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler's political career has taken off
during the past five years might be an understatement.
In five years' time -- the amount of time it takes most college students to earn a bachelor's degree -- the Camas Republican became a legislator in the state House of Representatives, successfully ran for Congress twice and recently was named to the U.S. House's coveted federal-spending committee. That appointment gives her more authority over the Columbia River Crossing project.
Part of the 34-year-old's success might come from the fact that her diverse background is seen as advantageous for the Republican Party, especially in a time when the party is working to re-brand itself. But a more important key to her success, her supporters and colleagues say, is that Herrera Beutler is an energetic and practical leader who balances party loyalty with the needs of an often independently minded district.
"People have recognized her as the talent that she is," Herrera Beutler's former boss, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, said recently. "I'm always impressed that Jaime is quick to speak up, and she recognizes that it's her responsibility to speak up on behalf of the people she represents."
Although Southwest Washington's 3rd Congressional District became more conservative following last year's redrawing of voter boundaries, those across the aisle from Herrera Beutler say her ability to stay in office will depend on whether she's able to distance herself from the rigid conservative ideology that sometimes exists within her party.
Critics from both sides
When Herrera Beutler embarked on her first term in Congress, she thought she'd found a rubric to make all of her voting decisions easier.
In order to vote in favor of a bill, she said, that bill would have to pass this three-pronged test: "Do the people of Southwest Washington benefit, am I breaking any personal values, and am I in line with the Constitution?"
Since then, she's learned her lawmaking decisions are never that black and white.
She's come under fire by those to her left and her right. As Democrats in the 3rd District began organizing to find a candidate to pit against her in 2014, the congresswoman was chastised by Tea Party activists over her vote to avert the so-called fiscal cliff.
Herrera Beutler was one of 85 Republicans to vote "yes" on a plan to keep tax cuts from expiring on nearly all Americans and to delay the fiscal cliff debate on government cuts. In the House, 151 Republicans voted against the deal, which was put forward by the Democratic-majority Senate.
Within hours, the libertarian group Americans for Limited Government issued a statement saying her vote "may engender a primary challenge in 2014 -- and Rep. Herrera Beutler will have nobody to blame but herself."
Before the fiscal cliff vote, Herrera Beutler said she talked to other Republicans who said voting "yes" would be best for their districts, but that they still planned to vote "no."
"They didn't want to vote yes because they were too afraid about how it would be mischaracterized," she said. "That's not courage. ... We need to govern."
Herrera Beutler votes with her party 91 percent of the time, according to
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