Rep. Marie Gluesenkamp Perez Discusses the Right to Repair

By Douglas McColloch

Marie Gluesenkamp Perez runs a successful auto repair shop along with her husband, Dean, in Portland, Oregon. She's also a freshman Democratic Congresswoman representing Washington's 3rd District, across the Columbia River from Portland, which covers the southwestern corner of the state. A fifth-generation Washingtonian, she campaigned on kitchen-table issues that include "right to repair," the legislative initiative that empowers individuals and their preferred mechanics and technicians to perform their own repairs on everything from PCs to Priuses without having to rely solely on the OE manufacturer. The state of Massachusetts enacted an automotive right-to-repair law in 2012, and grassroots support for a federal version has been steadily growing ever since.

As a freshman legislator, Gluesenkamp Perez may still be learning the ropes in DC, but she is already making her mark on the legislative process. She's currently a co-sponsor of SEMA-supported House Resolution (H.R.) 906, the Right to Equitable and Professional Auto Industry Repair (REPAIR) Act.

A graduate of Reed College with a degree in economics, Gluesenkamp Perez, 35, resides in rural Skamania County, Washington, with her husband, Dean Gluesenkamp, and their son Ciro. Driving Force spoke recently with Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez about right to repair and other number of related issues. What follows here has been edited for clarity and length.

Driving Force: You and your husband run an auto repair business. Tell us a little bit more about that and how you got into it.

Marie Gluesenkamp Perez: We're an independent auto repair shop. My husband started it out of high school. When I first met him, I was a bike mechanic, and the secret of most bike mechanics is that they want to be auto mechanics. It's like the joining the varsity, you know? The first gift he ever gave me was the carburetor off of a weed eater, and things just went from there.

DF: What convinced you to switch gears and run for Congress?

MGP: I didn't want to be represented by the people that I thought were going to likely be representing me and I think that if we want to fix American politics, it's incumbent on small business owners, on normal people to do the work and step up and run.

DF: One of the key issues we ran on in 2022 was right to repair. Let's talk about H.R. 906, of which you're an original co-sponsor, and why it's particularly relevant now.

MGP: Right to repair is a cultural, economic and environmental issue. It touches many bases. I really believe that Americans are unique. DIY is part of our DNA. We believe in fixing our own breaks and doing our own work. And more and more, we're seeing terms of service agreements that really box owners out of fixing their own vehicles. John Deere has been one of worst in this regard. You need the digital key to get into the engine bay or the whole tractor shuts down. I really believe that we're going to be turned into a permanent class of renters if we don't have access to fixing our own stuff. This isn't only about supporting the trades, it's also about protecting American culture. We believe in being stewards of our own goods.

DF: On the subject, how has this bill been received by your constituents? It's our understanding that this problem often is often felt most acutely by rural populations.

MGP: Absolutely. Going back to John Deere, having to drive three or four hours to get to an authorized dealership and have your tractor tied up for months is a hassle. Meanwhile, if you're a farmer, the harvest doesn't wait. There are really only two to three days when hay has nutritional value for livestock. It's when the seed head is fully formed, before it's fallen off the stalk. So if you can't cut hay on time, the price of beef goes up.

It's also an environmental issue because we're filling up our landfills with disposable cars. On the other hand, I can make a Honda Civic run for 500,000 miles if I have access to the parts to fix it. We're basically being locked out of the next generation of service.

DF: The bill has been referred to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. What kind of reception has the bill received up to now?

MGP: It's really exciting. We've actually gotten a lot of bipartisan support behind it. The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee [Glenn Thompson, R - PA] is signed on because he knows how important it is to farmers and people in rural communities. And what I hope that your readers can help me do is reach out to their representatives and let them know how important this legislation is.

This is not a niche interest. This is not just about people running repair shops. It is about American identity at its core. We're sort of at this fulcrum point where if we let it go, we will lose a generation of kids who don't know how to work on cars.

DF: What's the most effective way, in your opinion, for constituents to communicate directly with their representatives about the Repair Act and other legislation that's important to them? Phone calls, emails, or something else?

MGP: Phone calls and emails. Try and schedule a meeting, especially if you own a shop. Legislators really listen to small business owners—or they ought to, and if they don't, you should vote them out. When constituents who are keeping family-wage jobs in the communities come to you and say this issue matters to them, that's a powerful constituency group.

People working in the trades have not fully realized their power and influence, so try to get a meeting with your legislators. If that doesn't work, something in writing is great. Get a letter back. And if you don't like the answer, send another one.

DF: Let's talk a bit about the recent EPA rule proposal that is seeking to cut 10 billion pounds of CO2 emissions by 2050. There's no real mandate for electrification in the rule, but it's so strict that up to two thirds of all new cars and trucks being sold by 2032 would need to be electrified to meet the mandate, and that's not very far off. What's your take on this proposed rule change?

MGP: In the county I live in, there are two electric charging stations and both of them are at resorts, so for people like us who live in rural communities, this is not reflective of the reality on the ground. There are not enough electricians, and there's not enough electrical transmission capacity.

We all agree that electric cars can be very good for consumers, but it's important that the transition to EVs is led by market forces that are they really meeting the needs of consumers. Your car is your second biggest investment behind your house, and people don't tend to make those investments solely on a moral basis.

This also needs to make economic sense. One of the limiting factors in market penetration for electric vehicles is the availability of minerals for batteries, so I actually think that hybrid-electric is a much stronger way to reduce the overall emissions of consumer transportation for the average consumer. If you need to take on a 200-mile road trip to grandma's house, you can run on gas, and if you only run around the city on shorter trips, you can run on all electric. We could see much higher rates of market penetration that way without having to burden ourselves with making sure that the minerals that we're sourcing for these batteries are coming from our allies and that we're growing those industries with partners we can rely on.

DF: You've said that you'd like to see more tradespeople in public office. What in your estimation needs to happen for that to become reality?

MGP: Campaign finance is a huge part of it. The amount of money it takes to run for office is insane, and it boxes normal people out of the process. Also, I think a lot of politics has sort of devolved into how good of a talker you are, how good of a salesman you are. I think it's important that we be more results-oriented and relate more strongly to the real world, so it's critical that more people from the trades run for Congress and for local elected positions.

One problem is that many of us in the trades are very busy. It's so much work to run a small business. Just getting your taxes filed can feel like a marathon! Running a campaign for office can be difficult, but I strongly encourage people to think about it.

DF: How has the transition to public service been? How steep is the learning curve?

MGP: People sort of think that politics is some rarefied profession, but to my mind, it's very similar to running an auto repair shop. You know, you're sizing up who's going to rip you off, who's a good partner, who's a straight shooter. You're sifting through regulatory environments, you're making hiring decisions and you're trying to serve your constituencies.

DF: On a similar subject. What do you think your colleagues can learn from you? What life experiences do you bring to the job that might help them be better, more effective legislators?

MGP: It's really important that we have a Congress that looks like America. A lot of members of Congress don't have a concept of what it's like to live on a gravel road, to get your water from a well or to get your internet from a radio tower like I do at home. So it's important to have the full spectrum of American society in Congress—not just lawyers and doctors and people who think they're God's gift to politics.

I think I'm just very candid in the way that I communicate about my ideas and my perspectives on legislation. And it turns out that people really do want to listen because what I'm doing is a little bit different than what's been on offer.

DF: What's in your garage?

MGP: We have so many cars at home! I just got a 2008 Jetta TDI, the diesel six speed. Before that, it was a BMW 325. In DC, I drive a '97 Toyota Land Cruiser. I've never owned a new car.

We live in the Columbia River Gorge. We get these insane ice storms, and you need four-wheel drive to get around many months of the year, so my husband drives a 2002 Toyota Tundra. I also had a Toyota Tacoma, which I really loved, but you couldn't get a child's car seat in it. I also had a '91 4Runner at one point, and when we first started dating, my husband got me a Honda 125 SR for Valentine's Day, so we bumped around on that for a while.

Special thanks to Rep. Gluesenkamp Perez for bringing the good fight for automotive freedoms to Capitol Hill!