BackStage Pass: One of Us on Capitol Hill

BackStage Pass: One of Us on Capitol Hill

Learn about how shop owner Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez is advocating for our industry on Capitol Hill.

Capitol Hill is teeming with lawmakers, lobbyists and legislative aides, all looking to push their agendas and create meaningful, impactful laws to change the lives of millions of Americans across the country. But for many Americans, our nation’s capital is a distant, elitist world where political theater plays out. Amid the halls of democracy, though, stands one of us. Meet Representative Marie Gluesenkamp Perez, a repair shop owner who serves as the Congressional representative for Washington State’s third district.

We met Marie, as she likes to be called, in her cozy office in the Longworth House Office Building on Capitol Hill at the end of September. It’s safe to say, she’s not your average Congresswomen. Wearing her Congressional pin on her green, short-sleeved sweater, she also donned a pair of Blundstones, originally produced as work boots in the late 1800s. For our industry, she’s like the Bruce Springsteen of the political world. Her no-BS approach to the pageantry on Capitol Hill derives from her working-class upbringing and hard-and-fast mentality of “fixing your own shit,” a cultural ideal she feels we’re leaving behind if we don’t advocate for Right to Repair.

“Consumers are going to turn away from owning their personal vehicles if we don’t make it affordable and durable. You need the aftermarket side,” she passionately proclaims. “As we box more and more people out of accessing and being able to work on their own cars, you are cutting the technician lifecycle off at the knees.”

A legislative RockStar for our industry, Marie co-led the introduction of The REPAIR Act, which would solidify a consumer’s access to their own vehicle data—an important step for the automotive aftermarket to gain access to critical remote diagnostics and telematics data. She is also advocating for trade school funding and a myriad of “common sense” legislation, as she says.

Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez

“I think you have to stay focused on why you came here,” she says about the honor of serving in Congress. “For me, that’s Right to Repair, it’s trade schools and it’s supporting a strong middle class and a vibrant small business economy.”

Marie grew up much like her political ideology reflects. Her father, a Mexican immigrant, met her mother, a fourth-generation Washingtonian and a teacher, in college. Both her parents were involved in the community, which set a precedent for the young, determined Marie. Since high school, she had a passion for politics, often skirting both sides of the aisle.

“Growing up, I was a member of the young Republicans and young Democrats,” Marie told C-SPAN in an interview earlier this year. “I went to both of their meetings, and it was not until my brother came out as gay in college that I said, ‘Wait a minute. This is hurting people. This is not the right direction.’ [That’s when] I identified myself as a moderate.”

Her political involvement continued during her time studying economics at Reed College in Portland, just over the state line from where she grew up. There, she served on the Student Senate and became involved with a bike co-op. Through tinkering with her bike and fixing others, she fell in love with more than just mechanics.

“I fell in love with the right man,” she says smiling. “I was working as a bike mechanic, and I ran into my [now] husband. I thought, ‘Oh, I have to find something for that man to fix.’ And the first gift he ever gave me was the carburetor off a weed eater.

“But like most bike mechanics,” she continued, “the ugly secret is that we want to graduate into automotive.”

While she was in college, her now-husband, Dean Gluesenkamp, worked as a mobile car technician and rented shop space nearby. Once Marie graduated from college, they jumped into the business together.

Dean's Car Care Dean Marie_

In 2018, Marie and Dean found a shop in Portland that belonged to a retiring second-generation shop owner. They bought the building, which had been a shop since the 1940s, moved in and named the six-bay space Dean’s Car Care. In 2020, Marie and Dean bought out a machine shop and moved it into their building. Before getting elected to public office, Marie was the shop’s service writer overseeing transactions with customers and making sure their vehicles were serviced properly.

“The average age of our cars is around 20 years old, so we get a lot of daily drivers,” Marie says. “We’re also one of the only shops that will work on Japanese imports, the JDMs.”

While helping her husband run the shop, Marie never lost her political ambitions. Active in local politics since 2016, she ran for, and lost, a seat on the Skamania County Board of Commissioners, the Washington state county in which she and her husband live today. After the loss, she started working on the Underwood Conservation District board in 2018. In 2020, she gained a role as a Washington State representative on the Democratic National Committee. The next year, she gave birth to her son, Ciro. Then in February 2022, she announced her campaign for Washington’s third Congressional district seat.

To gain her seat, Marie faced a tough opponent in the 2022 election—Republication Joe Kent. In a narrow victory, Marie flipped her district with little to no national help, campaigning on the promise of not representing special interests and not taking corporate PAC money. Instead, the 35-year-old Latina business owner and working mom focused on running as a voice for workers who have a little grease under their fingernails.

“I really believe in service,” she says. “I care more about what the people I run into at the grocery store think, not what’s happening here in DC.”

Stay tuned to the AMN Daily newsletter for more on Vehicle Care RockStar Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Pérez.

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