Federal Representative Jaime Herrera Beutler (R, Wash.) is taking time between legislative sessions to meet with her constituents within Southwest Washington and began her tour Monday with a coffee shop meeting at Winlock’s Guadalajara restaurant.
Greeted by a crowd of a few dozen residents from all across the area, she got right to the point of asking what important issues were on the minds of those in attendance.
Vader City Council Member Kevin Flynn got started with his ambition to establish an Amtrak stop in Vader for commuter rails access to those traveling to Seattle and Portland. Flynn explained he has been in touch with Amtrak officials since last year and has reached somewhat of a roadblock in the process of encouraging them to consider the rural community for a stop, asking Beutler for support in moving the idea farther.
Beutler said she was hesitant to support additional train stations as federal funding for such projects is also used for highway infrastructure, stating she sees a greater need for road development throughout the region.
Flynn said Amtrak officials have informed him a station would not be needed as much as a location along the rails to stop and pick up/drop off passengers, and said such a location already exists in Vader. Beutler said she was not aware of such lenient expectations, adding she does see a need for greater rail development along the West Coast, as East Cost transit systems have shown rail can be heavily utilized. She later took Flynn’s information to follow up with him in the future.
Hot-button issues such as gun control were also posed to the congresswoman, who said she feels the root of gun violence in America is not necessarily the availability of weapons but the availability of mental health services, calling current resources "woefully inadequate."
She said her generation has been unprepared for widespread mental health challenges, growing up largely apart from war, she said, and has not been prepared for the mental stresses sustained during and around combat. She said mental health services for the public as well as veterans needs to be sought and implemented, but that any mental health efforts need to be embraced, supported and enacted by community members, or they will not be able to work.
She was also asked about America’s assumed role as an international policing agency, being asked why conflicts overseas are being given so many resources in light of conflicts within our own borders.
Beutler said foreign aid was a difficult subject in regard to funding, stating one can’t have the mindset of broadly supporting ample funding or no funding at all. She pointed to the Syrian Civil War and said, while she supports coming to the aid of rebels to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, she does not support arms packages without guarantees of keeping weapons out of the hands of America’s enemies, stating she has voted against a recent arms package for that very reason.
She was also questioned about the epidemic of sexual assault in the military, and said she feels current inadequate safeguards for victims’ rights mean it is time to intervene and bring about dramatic changes in the way sexual assaults are reported and prosecuted.
She mentioned her support of a bill passed in the House Friday, which would protect those who allege sexual assault from retaliation and essentially afford them the legal status of a whistleblower. She also said she is considering introducing legislation which would place sexual assault claims in the hands of the military court system rather than the chain of command, as some victims have said they decline to speak out because they did not want their superior officers to hamper their careers.
Winlock resident and National Guard member Aaron Mummert, who serves as a sexual assault response personnel, echoed that victims he encounters are often worried reporting an assault may place their unit in a vulnerable position and would rather simply endure having been assaulted.
Beutler again said such sentiments are strong evidence that the system of reporting and prosecuting sexual assault in the military needs to be revised, stating, "We cannot tolerate it any longer."
After spending just more than an hour with constituents and answering questions both personal and political, Beutler was thanked for her coming to Winlock and her service in Congress and said she is looking forward to spending her week among the residents of Southwest Washington before the House reconvenes on Monday.