"community coffee" events, in which she would invite a group of constituents
to a smaller community meeting, typically over coffee. Herrera Beutler said
she made that change because her last town hall in May of 2011 became so
divisive and uncivil that some audience members felt uncomfortable.
Shorty after winning re-election in 2012, Herrera Beutler was named to the coveted House Appropriations Committee, which oversees federal discretionary spending. She also was able to convince Republican leaders that she could handle the workload of serving on Appropriations, typically an exclusive committee, while remaining on the Small Business Committee.
What's more, one of her subcommittee appointments on Appropriations will put her in the spotlight when it comes to the $3.5 billion Columbia River Crossing megaproject -- a project she hopes to reshape into one without light rail.
Raised in politics
Politics has been front and center in the congresswoman's life. During her early years, Herrera Beutler's parents campaigned several times for the 3rd District's former Republican congresswoman, Linda Smith. Smith recalls Herrera Beutler helping out on Smith's campaign as a youngster.
When Herrera Beutler "was just a little girl," Smith said, "she door-belled for me."
Herrera was home-schooled through the ninth grade. Her parents encouraged her to write letters to the editor and to visit the state's Capitol. It was during a trip to Olympia when she was in about the fifth grade that Herrera Beutler began considering a career in public office, she said.
Smith lost track of Herrera Beutler until she resurfaced as a young woman with her sights set on a legislative appointment. "I was so impressed with the way she carried herself," Smith said, adding that it takes real leadership and coalition-building skills to compete for such an appointment.
Morris also was impressed with Herrera Beutler during that appointment process. Morris was one of the county commissioners who decided to appoint Herrera Beutler to replace Curtis in the 18th Legislative District.
"As I recall, the other two commissioners from Clark County favored someone else," said Morris, who also had served as a state representative in the 18th. "But I was a really strong supporter of Jaime. She interviewed really well. She was in tune with her district."
Since then, Morris said she's been both disappointed and happy with Herrera Beutler.
"I've been pleased with some of the things that she's done for forest owners and small timber growers," Morris said. When Herrera Beutler voted in favor of the fiscal cliff deal, Morris praised the congresswoman: "She did the right thing here."
But "I was disappointed that she was so quick to sign the Grover Norquist no-taxes pledge," Morris said. "What the 18th Legislative District and the 3rd Congressional District value more than anything else is independence in their elected officials, and their willingness to ignore the party position when it's the right thing to do."
Sometimes, first- and second-term members of Congress "walk a fine line between their own degree of independence and their need to get along with their party for the purpose of good appointments to their committees," Morris said. Herrera Beutler might still be learning who she is as a lawmaker, and "it's not until you get into the heat of battle that you get to understand who you really are."
While those following Herrera Beutler's career wait for her to find her niche, Herrera Beutler says she wants to be the lawmaker known for connecting with the people she serves. She's not one to introduce many pieces of legislation -- "I actually think we have too many laws on the books," she says.
Instead, when her career in Congress ends, Herrera Beutler said she wants people to say: "I got a hold of her office, and she helped. ... That's what I'd like my legacy to be."
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