For the first time in four decades, Thurston County has no district office for its representatives in Congress - and it might not get one anytime soon.
Third District freshman Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler of Camas has decided not to open a district office except in Vancouver, the most populous city in her district.
And Democratic Rep. Adam Smith of Tacoma has never opened a Thurston office, even though his 9th district was reapportioned to include Lacey starting in 2003.
Herrera Beutler took office two months ago and is experimenting with periodic “mobile office” hours in the sprawling district that covers seven counties and most of Southwest Washington, spokesman Casey Bowman said.
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Thurston County Democrats are protesting, saying the first-year Republican also failed to answer calls from local voters and refused to help or meet with groups in the Thurston County area. They see a sinister effort to withdraw representation from a liberal part of the district that might not be part of the 3rd after redistricting takes effect in 2012.
The county Democrats’ central committee passed a resolution recently that says Herrera “seems to have embraced the current ‘Tea Party’ but forgotten the original one, and has apparently chosen to re-create ‘Taxation without Representation’ for the citizens of Thurston County.”
“The point is not to beat her up or say she’s bad,” said Democratic chairman Stew Henderson on Monday. “I’m sure they are returning some phone calls, but we have people saying they are not returning phone calls.”
On the point of Rep. Smith not having a Lacey office, Henderson said the Lacey area is only a minor part of Smith’s 9th district that runs to Tukwila. In contrast, Olympia is one of two population centers for the 3rd and at the opposite end of the district from Vancouver, so it makes sense to have an office in the northern part of the district.
The Democrats’ resolution takes other digs at Herrera Beutler, saying one of her staffers told a Thurston County voter that because redistricting is likely to remove Thurston County from the 3rd district, she isn’t providing services north of Rochester.
Herrera Beutler’s office flatly denied the Democrats’ allegations through spokesman Bowman. He called it “good fiction” from Democrats and not a story.
“Our district staff has met with the Thurston Economic Development Council on different occasions, the Thurston Regional Planning Council, folks from the Thurston Procurement Technical Assistance Center, the Evergreen State College and others,” Bowman said in an e-mail. “Jaime hosted a meeting with doctors in Tumwater last month, will be speaking to the Tumwater Rotary in April, and staff is finalizing details for her to tour the Port of Olympia in the coming weeks.”
Bowman said the lawmaker favors having staff hold “mobile office” hours around the district and is looking to make do with fewer resources. The Republican held a “mobile office” event at the Olympia library Thursday.
Herrera Beutler “has no current plans to open another permanent office, and we are assessing the effectiveness of these Mobile Offices before going that route. Again, Congress trimmed their office budgets so we’re trying to do more with less,” Bowman said. “If Jaime did decide to open another district office, she wouldn’t open a second one in Clark County.”
Democratic state Rep. Sam Hunt of Olympia is a former county party chairman and remembers that Rep. Julia Butler Hansen had a staffer, former state Sen. Bob Bailey, as her Olympia aide. But he doesn’t think members of Congress had district offices in those days.
After that, Democratic Reps. Don Bonker, Jolene Unsoeld and Brian Baird had Olympia offices, and Republican Rep. Linda Smith had one in Lacey during the mid-1990s.
“With neither Herrera Beutler nor Smith having a congressional office here, I would venture to say it is the first time in 40 years there has not been one,” Hunt said.
Baird took office in 1999 and chose to move the Thurston office to Olympia right away. He also divorced and later moved to Vancouver, the new population center in the 3rd. But he retained his Olympia office and staff.
“It’s not just me getting to the people. It’s the people getting to us. Let’s say you are from northern Pacific County or East Lewis. It seems you are asking a lot of your constituents – to (say) ‘hike down,’ ” Baird said. “I also think the 3rd has a special responsibility because it is the state capital.”
The Democratic National Campaign Committee has been taking shots at Herrera Beutler since she was sworn into office, criticizing her for focusing on budget cuts that critics say could cost jobs and for failing to take other steps that might boost employment.