PORT ANGELES — Three things keep U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer up at night, the North Olympic Peninsula’s Congressional representative said Wednesday.
Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, said he loses sleep over the massive, disruptive economic change taking place across the globe, the fact that the benefits of economic change are not being felt in the same ways and that the capacity to address those challenges is “hamstrung by broken politics.”
“It’s always nice to be home,” Kilmer, a Port Angeles native, told about 70 Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce members during their monthly luncheon at the Red Lion Hotel.
“It’s also nice to not be in Washington, D.C., right now.”
Kilmer gave a 51-minute summary of how he is tackling economic challenges.
The 6th Congressional District representative serves on the House Appropriations Committee, Interior and Environment Subcommittee, Defense Subcommittee, and Energy and Water Development Subcommittee.
In January, Kilmer was chosen by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to chair the new Select Committee on the Modernization of Congress.
“I’m hoping to kind of give you a sense of how I’m trying to approach this and encourage you to keep the faith, because I know it’s hard to watch Congress in action,” Kilmer said.
“That’s both in action and inaction. But some of us are really trying to get the train back on the track.”
Kilmer, whose district includes the North Olympic Peninsula, steered clear of the House impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump and focused his remarks on the economy.
He emphasized that disruptive economic change is “not necessarily a bad thing.”
“That disruptive economic change means that I can sit in a cheap apartment in Washington, D.C., and FaceTime with my kids on an iPad and almost feel like we’re in the same place,” Kilmer said.
But those who have been working in photography, video rental shops or bookstores have been forced to move to other industries, Kilmer said.
“It really bums me out that the words ‘Be kind, please rewind’ mean nothing to my daughters,” Kilmer said.
Kilmer said the benefits of the economic recovery that began in 2012 were disproportionately felt by those in urban areas.
Since the end of the Great Recession, the wealthiest 20 percent of the country’s zip codes hosted 57 percent of the new business start-ups and more than half of the new jobs, Kilmer said.
Rather than a silver bullet, Kilmer said it would take “silver buckshot” to level the economic playing field for rural areas such as the North Olympic Peninsula.
He said he favors a “comprehensive approach to job creation that includes workforce development, infrastructure investment and a smarter approach to taxes and trade.”
Kilmer said he co-sponsored a bipartisan bill to support schools that forge partnerships with employers and provide job training.
Another bipartisan bill he co-sponsored would set up “lifelong learning accounts,” he said.
“They would function almost like a 401K, or a health savings account, but around workforce training,” Kilmer said.
The accounts would provide tax incentives to employers who choose to support their workers’ education.
“Your employee could use it to go take night classes at Peninsula College,” Kilmer said.
“If they were in an entry level job, they could use it to try to get a skill to move their way up the wage ladder. If they got laid off, they could use it to go get retrained.
“And part of the rationale behind this is trying to find ways to empower people to navigate economic change rather than to be victimized by it,” Kilmer said.
For college-bound students, Kilmer said he introduced a bipartisan bill last Friday that would “basically put the Pell grant on steroids.”
The legislation would enable poor and middle-class students to attend college without being overwhelmed by debt, he said.
“The purchasing power of the Pell grant has eroded over time, and so we have a bipartisan bill to try to address that,” Kilmer said.
Gaps in rural infrastructure are contributing to the lag in the economic recovery, Kilmer said.
The 6th District ranks in the bottom fifth of the nation for high-speed internet access, Kilmer said.
“This gets beyond whether you can watch Season 3 of Stranger Things on Netflix and see if the kids made it out of the Upside Down,” Kilmer said.
“This is ‘Do you have educational opportunity and do you have economic opportunity?’ And because of a lack of adequate infrastructure, in a lot of communities the answer to that is no, we don’t.”
Kilmer co-sponsored the bipartisan Broadband for All Act in 2018 to try to bridge the digital divide.
He predicted that Congress would make progress on infrastructure in the coming year.
“There are not Republican roads or Democratic bridges,” Kilmer said.
“This is something that Democrats and Republicans say should move forward. You’ve heard the president say it’s a priority for him.
“My hope is that as those investments are made that it’s not just chasing growth in large urban areas, but it also focuses on supporting rural communities, too,” he said.
Kilmer said he co-sponsored a bill to address the $12 billion maintenance backlog in the national park system.
“We’ve got some positive momentum on this bill, and my hope is that we’re going to get it across the finish line,” he said.
In order to help repair the “broken politics” of Washington, Kilmer said he and others in Congress have had “civility exchanges” with members of the opposite party.
Kilmer has toured Republican districts and has brought Republican lawmakers to Hurricane Ridge, the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard at Bremerton and the Port of Tacoma, he said.
“I’m increasingly of the belief that good democracy is a little bit like a good marriage,” Kilmer said.
“You don’t necessarily agree with your partner on everything, but you gotta be able to talk to each other and listen to each other and not have every interaction turn into the Jerry Springer show.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected] dailynews.com.