Capitol Hill is teeming with lawmakers, lobbyists and legislative aids, 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 Pérez, 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 congresswoman. 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 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.
“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.”
The Call to Mechanics
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.
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 for public office, Marie was the shop’s service writer overseeing transactions with customers and making sure their vehicle was 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 county in which her 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 people I run into at the grocery store think, not what’s happening here in D.C.”
Bringing Back Trade Schools
As someone who built her own house with her husband in Skamania County, Washington, Marie serves as a front woman for trade schools in the federal fight for more funding and awareness.
“There is a real cultural shift that I think needs to take place to really get us back to a point where we respect and honor work [hard labor],” she says. “I think that we have to reflect those values in the legislation that we’re passing.”
Her set list includes working to make Pell Grants more accessible for trade school students. She’s also endorsed legislation that would add information about the trades as viable career choice on a student’s FAFSA application. In addition, she has supported a bill that would help graduates from vocational programs start their own small businesses, just like her and her husband have done.
“We really need to start putting our money where our mouth is,” she says. “If we believe academia and trade schools are equally valuable, we need match our investment in academics with our investment in the trades.”
She highlighted a study in the state of Washington that found that every $1 that is spent on career and technical education in K-12 is reflected in a $9 payout in value to taxpayers.
“It really is one of the best investments you can make,” she says matter-of-factly.
Aside from the returns trade schools give to a local economy, Marie believes that they can provide a much-needed outlet for young people who may not be as successful as their peers in a traditional academic environment.
“Right now, our young men are dying in incredible numbers from suicide. I think that a big part of that is that we have, for decades now, told people if you’re not book smart, you’re not smart and denigrated all the other forms of intelligence out there,” she says. “For the short-term health of the enthusiast and gearheads, you really need a 14-year-old taking apart a lawnmower if you want to have a technician in their twenties. That’s the lifecycle of a mechanic.”
Right to Repair
Right to Repair is an industry issue that’s as big as the Beatles in the mid-60s or Taylor Swift right now. It has the power to change the automotive aftermarket for generations to come. As a shop owner, Marie knows this. That’s why she joined GOP Rep. Neal Dunn of Florida and two other lawmakers in introducing The REPAIR Act (H.R. 906). This bill would require automakers to share the data, tools and instructions needed to repair their vehicles—giving access of that data to the consumer and the independent aftermarket nationwide.
“I think The REPAIR Act is important because the automotive industry is an ecosystem,” she explains. “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 if you want the dealership side to prosper. More and more manufacturers are moving toward disposable cars, and it’s shortsighted.”
Marie believes that the right to repair our own stuff is an essential part of the American culture. Taking that away is taking away generational engagement with fixing or maintaining our own technology.
“This is about the long-term health [of our industry] because in 20 years, our shop [Dean’s Car Care] is going to start seeing those vehicles… I’m really uncomfortable using technology I can’t fix or maintain. I think that’s part of the American ethos and that’s what’s so destructive about manufacturers locking us out of the lifecycle of goods. It’s terrible for our culture, it’s terrible for the long-term health of our industry, and it’s also terrible for the environment.”
In a next step for The REPAIR Act, a group part of the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing on the bill on Sept. 27. At the hearing, more than a dozen members of Congress inquired about the legislation, marking one of the first times the REPAIR Act was highlighted in the legislative process.
Where it goes from here is yet to be seen, but Marie says that sparking change on the federal level will come when each of us in the automotive aftermarket takes action.
“It’s going to take a grassroots effort,” she says. “Most of my colleagues here do not understand the lifecycle of vehicles or technicians. If we don’t get access to the data, it’s a loss of jobs and really good jobs. Viable jobs. So, we need more co-sponsors. We need more people who see the value of this, and we need more people seeing this as something that is worth fighting for.”