PORT TOWNSEND — U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer recalled his first job with nostalgia and related it to several pieces of economic disruption in today’s environment.
Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, grew up in Port Angeles and worked at Westside Video, a job he said has mostly been replaced by digital streaming platforms and on-demand content.
“It really bums me out that the words ‘be kind, rewind’ mean nothing to the audience,” he joked Monday in front of about 75 people.
Kilmer, 45, spoke during a semi-monthly luncheon hosted by the Chamber of Jefferson County at the Port Townsend Elks Club, and while he touched on many topics — including legislation on immigration and greater, less-expensive access to pharmaceuticals — he spent the majority of his time on what he called “massive, disruptive economic change.”
He recalled different places at which he’s shopped and said automation and globalization have changed our perspective.
“You’ve seen that massive, disruptive change, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing,” Kilmer said. “But it’s bad news if you were the entrepreneur who owned Westside Video.”
Kilmer, who represents the North Olympic Peninsula’s 6th Congressional District, also talked about the former Kitz Camera shop in Port Angeles and the old Borders bookstore in Gig Harbor, two places that generated fond memories.
One of the problems with change, he said, is that “the benefits and the pain have not been felt in the same way and the same places.”
Kilmer cited a study that broke down business creation and jobs within every ZIP code in the country.
“Of the 20 percent that were worse off, they are behind where they were in 2000,” he said.
That’s true for the North Olympic Peninsula, where the bottom 40 percent “would comprise a majority of the district I represent,” Kilmer said.
“How do you create more economic opportunity for more people in more places?” he asked. “There’s a real concern that the main export is going to be young people.”
Kilmer said he’s working with Congress to develop a multi-faceted approach that starts with K-12 schools but includes more vocational training and potentially more access to federal dollars to support higher education.
“I’ve visited more vocational classes than I have civics classes,” he said. “It’s a good thing to go into the skilled trades. There’s jobs at the end of that.
“For too long, our leaders neglected that.”
One option Kilmer is promoting is an optional, portable tax-advantage benefit he called a “lifelong learning account.” He said it would function almost like a 401(k) or a Health Savings Account in that a worker could use it for additional education.
“If the nature of their job was changing, they could take night classes,” Kilmer said in one example.
“We should be providing tools for people to navigate economic change rather than be victims of it.”
Outside of the general economy, Kilmer said he’s working with Congress on policies that would “respect rural health care,” saying the current system has “perverse elements of reimbursement.”
He also has become the chair of a select committee on the modernization of Congress, and he’s used bipartisan support to pass 29 recommendations.
“You can go back to the early ’90s, and there’s not a select committee that has passed a single recommendation,” Kilmer said.
Most of the time, partisan politics gets in the way, he said.
“I made a pitch to my Republican counterpart from Georgia and said, ‘What if we just hire a group of people together? Some will wear blue jerseys and some will wear red jerseys, but we’ll all put on jerseys that say, “Let’s fix Congress.” ’ ”
On pharmaceuticals, Kilmer said legislation similar to what’s available in the Veterans Administration would take the top 25-50 highest-value drugs and establish a price negotiation under Medicare.
He used insulin as an example, saying it’s not necessarily the most expensive drug, but a lot of Americans use it.
On immigration, Kilmer spoke about his own grandmother, who built a life in the United States in 1948 “with my mom, $10 and a suitcase,” he said.
“She did not become a U.S. citizen until she was 87 years old, and she had been a widow for probably 20 years and had very little means.”
Kilmer cited an 83 percent rise in costs to apply for citizenship, from $640 to more than $1,100, and said if the price had been that high for his grandmother, she probably wouldn’t have gone through the process.
“I don’t think it should be a burdensome barrier,” Kilmer said.
He also talked about $12 billion in deferred maintenance in the National Parks system and how he’s relating to other representatives through his bipartisan workgroup.
“Steve Womack, a conservative Arkansas Republican, I brought him to my district and took him to Hurricane Ridge [south of Port Angeles],” Kilmer said. “On the way down, he said, ‘Kilmer, I understand why you’re on the parks backlog issue.’
“Part of it is to understand where people are coming from, to try to get through some of the things that divide us.”
Jefferson County Managing Editor Brian McLean can be reached at 360-385-2335, ext. 6, or at [email protected].