Getting Back on Our Feet

In America, we all have disagreements. That’s part of life.

We can argue about what version of Pearl Jam’s Better Man is the absolute best (I’ll take the guitar and organ version on the Vitalogy Extended Edition any day).

We can argue over fantasy football or over which team has the second-best fan base in the NFL (because obviously the Seahawks are first).

And yes, in the public arena, we can have passionate debates about the best way to do things like reform our tax system.

But even when we disagree in our country, when the time comes, we are there for one another.

Natural disasters cause significant damage to residents and businesses across our state and the country. Folks who have to pick up the pieces after their property is damaged need a helping hand – no matter where they live. That's why first responders from Pierce County drove all the way down to Texas for support.

That's also why Congress came together to pass disaster relief for Texas and Louisiana after they were struck by Hurricane Harvey.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) helps provide shelter, food, clothing, and medicine to those impacted by natural disasters while restoring public roads and buildings. Even before the final vote, stories were appearing that FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund was going to run out of money. With so many lives upended, it was important to get this done.

Congress also made sure that the government won’t shut down and that our country will be able to pay its bills … at least until December. In my last newsletter, I detailed why it was important to get that done (read about it here!). I’m disappointed Congress is just kicking the can down a road with a short-term funding bill and debt ceiling increase until December and I will be pushing for a longer-term deal as that deadline approaches. Our country needs a real budget that gets a handle on our long-term fiscal challenges, puts us on a path for growing our economy, and provides predictability.

A Local Emergency

Closer to home, we’ve also seen a natural disaster impact our daily lives. Fires raging across the Pacific Northwest have burned through tens of thousands of acres. Our cars are coated in ash, recess at many schools is being moved indoors, and sports practices are being cancelled due to poor air quality. In many places, you can barely see the sun through a swirling mix of haze and ash.

Unfortunately, the catastrophic fires that are raging around our state are symptomatic of the failure of Congress to address a real problem. Let me explain the situation.

Currently, the U.S. Forest Service gets its budget in specific silos. It gets a budget for dealing with roads. It gets a budget for dealing with preparing timber sales and getting them out the door. It gets a budget for addressing fires. You get the picture.

Unfortunately, under current law, once the Forest Service goes through tjhe money allocated for fire suppression, it’s forced to raid other parts of the Forest Service’s budget. That cannibalizes money from other areas – like Forest Service operations that can actually prevent forest fires in the first place. When the Forest Service is able to invest in common sense things like thinning and fuel reduction, it not only puts people in our region to work – it also makes it less likely that we will see large scale forest fires. But because funding for combating forest fires will now consume nearly two-thirds of the Forest Service budget, the ability to invest in prevention is further jeopardized. It means we end up chasing our own tail.  

That makes zero sense. That’s why I’ve sponsored a bipartisan bill to end this practice and treat large-scale forest fires just like how other natural disasters are treated. We would deal with these catastrophic fires with funding support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. These fires are natural disasters. They are emergencies. They should be treated that way without imploding the ability of the Forest Service to make good on its primary missions.

This has backing from Democrats and Republicans but it hasn’t moved forward. This is a prime example of why folks get so frustrated with Congress.

Please know that I remain motivated to make progress on this bill. I’ll keep you posted if we break through the logjam. 

A Dream Interrupted

President Trump also used the past couple of weeks to make a big decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) in six months. Let me provide a little background.

Based on the failure of Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform, President Obama established DACA, uwhich allowed children who were brought to the United States by their parents or other family members to legally stay, finish school, and work. About 800,000 DREAMERS are now a part of this program.

I feel strongly that DREAMERS should be protected. Last year, I met with a group of young DREAMERS in Bremerton and Tacoma and heard their stories. I heard from an 18-year-old woman who was brought to the United States by her parents as a baby. She said, “If my government wants to deport me, where are they going to send me?  I’ve never lived anywhere else. I don’t know anybody anyplace else. I don’t know any other home.” In my view, she’s right.

I believe it is wrong to punish young adults and children who, through no fault or choice of their own, came to this country and subsequently enrolled in the DACA program. To use their cooperation with the federal government as a tool to remove them from their families and communities is wrong.  DREAMERS are young people who attend our schools, pledge allegiance to our flag, serve in our military and are our neighbors. They are Americans in every way but on paper. 

That’s why I’m standing with my colleagues and promoting a permanent reauthorization of DACA through the DREAM Act. But this situation also highlights the need for real conversations about our country’s immigration policy. I believe that in order to stop illegal immigration we need to fix the problems we find in our legal immigration system.

This conversation has real-world implications for people who want to come to America and pursue the American Dream. We are a nation of immigrants (and I’m the son of an immigrant).  But we are also a nation of laws. It’s time to modernize our laws to meet our countries needs and values.

Remembering a Local Leader 

Since my last newsletter, I was saddened to learn the news of the passing of Maj. Gen. Tim Lowenberg. Tim could be characterized in so many ways. His commitment to country was demonstrated in his 44 years of service to our nation’s Armed Forces. His extraordinary professionalism and care for our service members was shown during his 13 years as Washington Adjutant General, during which he commanded the Washington Army and Air National Guard and oversaw emergency management – leading through disasters and deployments.

But beyond the outstanding work he did during his professional career, it’s hard not to think of how admirable he was as a human being. He gave up personal time to serve on my office’s veterans advisory council for the simple reason that he wanted to help those who served. He cared. He would give a call or send an email with ideas regarding how to help transitioning veterans or address a cyber threat for the same reason. His heart, his mind, and his time were so dedicated to service.

So last week when I had an opportunity to introduce a bill that would boost the capability of the National Guard to provide help during state-specific cyber-attacks, I was please to dedicate the bill to him: The Maj. Gen. Tim Lowenberg National Guard Cyber Defenders Act.

The legislation would create Cyber Civil Support Teams (Cyber CSTs) through the National Guard to coordinate responses to significant cyber-attacks in their state. Over the last several months, I was pleased to get input from several of the amazing men and women who serve in the Guard to craft this bill. I am confident that it would improve our ability to prevent and respond to cyber-attacks.

Addressing Another Natural Emergency

The waters of Puget Sound are a place where generations of fishermen have made their living. It’s important to protect their way of life. That’s why we need to make sure that the fish pen collapse near Cypress Island that spilled non-native salmon into our waters doesn’t do permanent damage to our iconic native species of salmon.

I got an up-close look at the fish pens (and at hundreds and hundreds of Atlantic Salmon in our waters) when leaders of the Lummi Nation invited me to view the damage.

I’m continuing to keep track of the situation and make sure that all steps are taken to rein in the non-native fish. That’s why I joined with our state’s senators and members of our House delegation in urgently writing a letter to the heads of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. We are pushing them to take quick and decisive action by directing federal resources to blunt the risks from this incident – that includes capturing the escaped salmon.  

Fighting for our Democracy

I’ve often said that voters should choose their elected officials rather than elected officials choosing their voters. For too long partisan gerrymandering has exacerbated partisan divisions while weakening participation in our democracy. Recently, I joined a bipartisan effort to bring people-power back to our political system. Together with 34 current and former members of Congress, I submitted an amicus brief to the Supreme Court in the Gill v. Whitford case.

This case involves a group of Wisconsin voters who in 2015 challenged the state legislature’s 2011 redistricting map in federal court as an excessively partisan gerrymander barred by the Constitution. A lower court validated that claim, noting the map violated the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause and the plaintiffs’ First Amendment freedom of association.

In our brief we noted not only our belief that partisan gerrymandering is undemocratic – it’s also unconstitutional. Check out our brief here.

Connecting with Young People in our Region

Before the end of August, I invited my colleague, Representative Eric Swalwell to our neck of the woods for a working visit. We are both members of a group he started – the Future Forum. The group is made up of young(er) members of Congress who are focused on the issues impacting young Americans. 

During his visit, we sat down with a group of apprentices and engineers at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard and got their ideas about how to strengthen apprenticeship opportunities.  

We had an amazing discussion with a group of young, veteran entrepreneurs who gave us suggestions about how to support transitioning veterans who want to start a business.   

And during one of our stops, we participated in a town hall with Tribal Youth in Suquamish to hear what was on their minds. It was a wonderful discussion and you can watch some of it here.

Working for You

I’m grateful for organizations like the Silverdale Chamber of Commerce acting as a model for collaboration and progress in our local communities. I gave the members of the chamber an update on the good, the bad, and the ugly of what’s going on in our nation's capital.

I was thrilled to visit burgeoning Bremerton-based tech company Critical Informatics to discuss the cybersecurity industry's growth here in the region. They have gone from 5 to 25 employees in just a few months, and have a bright and busy future in this important field. Our nation has seen exponential growth in cyber threats as technology and access grows - and the protection of our critical systems needs to keep pace. Innovative companies like this one can fill our security needs – and create good local jobs.

Thank you to The American Institute of Architects for stopping by my Tacoma office to talk about the importance of programs that help reduce our carbon footprint, like the energy star program. We had a great conversation about innovative building materials like Cross Laminated Timber as well.

OK. That’s it for this time. Thanks for reading. And, as always, thanks for the opportunity to represent you!

Derek Kilmer