Congressman Derek Kilmer has a new leadership position, new standing as a member of the majority in the U.S. House and a familiar mission to help expand economic opportunity in Washington’s 6th Congressional District.
The Democrat, who lives in Gig Harbor, was in Elma on Monday to host an Economic Development and Grants Seminar. He also got a tour of Summit Pacific Medical Center’s new Wellness Center.
“My big focus is on economic development and how do you create more economic opportunity for more people, in more places,” Kilmer said outside the meeting. “There are state and federal partners that can provide resources to Grays Harbor County to municipal and county government to nonprofits. And that can often be a complicated arena to navigate. So part of the rational behind this seminar was to try to demystify some of that process because my hope is that more of those resources can land on the ground here at Grays Harbor County in support of community resiliency and job creation.”
Kilmer brought together representatives from regional branches of federal agencies, state agencies and private groups to speak with Grays Harbor County government leaders, businesses and individuals.
Frances Sakaguchi of the U.S. Economic Development Administration mentioned the lack of organization of a regional Economic Development District means Grays Harbor County is missing out on money specifically earmarked for distressed communities. State and federally recognized EDDs are made up of at least two counties, one of which has been designated as distressed.
“In this area, we did have an Economic Development District,” Sakaguchi said of Grays Harbor. “Currently, it is not organized and managed. And we’re hoping that can get back together and get going again. They are a great technical assistance group in many ways. So they would help look for funds and organize efforts for grant funding.”
She went on to discuss the different grants and loans available through the EDA for public works, planning or other efforts by regional governments and nonprofits.
Carlotta Donisi and Ambrea Cormier of the U.S. Deparment of Agriculture’s Rural Development program also discussed the way the USDA can help fund projects.
“A lot of the organizations that were invited to participate, we did so based on questions and concerns and inquiries that we’ve gotten from the community,” Kilmer said. “You’ve seen both the EDA and USDA (rural development) as an example, which provide real resources on the ground to support job creation. Obviously, there are concerns around substance abuse, the opioid epidemic. There’s increasingly federal resources being made available to address that concern. And given that there is a significant problem here in Grays Harbor County, and there’s a significant interest in securing some of those resources, we wanted to make sure that the folks on the ground know how to access those resources.”
As a regional administrator with the Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, David Dickinson is leading efforts to help people in Alaska, Idaho, Oregon and Washington deal with opioid abuse and other problems.
He discussed the grant programs his agency offers in support of “programming and support for prevention, treatment and recovery around substance abuse disorders and mental illness.”
New Democrat Coalition
Last week, Kilmer was elected as chairman of the New Democrat Coalition.
When the new congressional session begins in January the bloc will have grown from fewer than 70 members to more than 90. Those new members hold a majority of the seats that flipped from Republican to Democrat in the November election, Kilmer said.
“The New Democrat Coalition is focused on looking at new solutions to old problems,” he said.
“I’d like to see Congress get more functional. The American people are justifiably frustrated with all the partisan bickering and want to see progress instead of partisanship. … My hope is that you start to see some problem solving on behalf of the American people. … There are a bunch of things that I’m working on in my office, everything from access to broadband to expanding job training and vocational training in our schools. Some of the issues around flooding that we’re dealing with that can have real impact on the ground in our communities. So I’m real excited about that. We’re working on some things that can make a difference.
“Often times in D.C., you see this debate between folks who think that the government is the problem or folks who think the government is the solution to every problem. Part of the focus of the New Democrat Coalition is trying to figure out how to make government work better and to reinvent government. Those, I think, are the right kinds of questions and the things for leaders to focus on.”
And on the subject of House leadership, Kilmer said he would be supporting Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s bid to regain the speaker’s gavel.
“Regardless of who is holding the gavel, how do we have a more functioning Congress?” Kilmer asked. “How do you make sure, for example, when major tax reform or major health care reform or whatever is brought forward, that people get a chance to read it and that it’s open to amendment and that it goes through the committee process rather than being done behind closed doors?
“I think the American people are justifiably frustrated that special interests have too much say and that too much is being done behind closed doors. That’s the big thing that I’m pushing on is actually reforming how Congress does business.”