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Jaime Herrera Returns to Capitol Hill

1:16 PM, Dec 10, 2010 • By THOMAS O'BAN
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The last time Jaime Herrera of Washington state was on Capitol Hill, Republicans taught her a valuable lesson. 

Jaime Herrera Returns to Capitol Hill

“I saw my party’s leaders make the wrong decisions. They had a chance, and squandered it.” 

From 2005-2007, Herrera served as senior legislative aide to Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Washington’s 5th District, vice chair of the House Republican Conference, and the highest ranking Republican woman in Congress. 

This January, Herrera returns to Capitol Hill in a different role.

At 32, she will be one of the youngest members of the House, and is only the second Republican woman of Hispanic descent to serve in Congress, following Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida.

A greater claim to fame is that she’s the only Republican congressional pickup on the West Coast. Republicans had hoped to win two house seats in California, one in Oregon, and a second in Washington, but only Herrera emerged victorious on November 2.

Washington reelected lock-step liberal Patty Murray to a fourth term as senator, but Herrera’s district in Southwest Washington, which includes Vancouver, Washington’s fourth largest city, tilts center-right.

Since 1998, the district has been represented by Democrat Brian Baird, a moderate who in 2007 took flak from fellow Democrats for his support of the Bush administration’s troop surge in Iraq. Baird’s retirement prompted the battle for his open seat, with Herrera and Democrat Denny Heck jockeying for the estimated 33 percent of independent electorate.

Herrera’s message of “jobs, jobs, jobs” resonated well in her district’s counties, several of which have the worst unemployment rates in the state. Washington state itself has an unemployment rate of 8.5 percent. Her opponent, Heck, an entrepreneur who founded TVW—Washington state’s public affairs television network—and was an original investor in Real Networks (the company that pioneered online media streaming), also emphasized the need for job creation, but he did so by echoing Obama’s policies of top-down stimulus, and supported the president’s health care and cap-and-trade bills.

In September, she was granted top-tier “Young Gun” status by the National Republican Congressional Committee, which backed her as a candidate with a “clear path to victory” in her race against Heck. Other Republican candidacies in Washington fell short of expectation after late absentee ballots reflected a surprising trend toward Democratic candidates. In the 2nd district, which comprises three counties north of Seattle, Republican challenger John Koster held a slim lead over Democratic incumbent Eric Larsen on election night, and was edged out in the following days. But Herrera’s five-point Election Day lead established her as the clear victor.

As a member of Congress, she will concern herself primarily with working with “anyone who’s willing” to rein in federal spending and create lasting jobs. Herrera remembers all too well the opportunity lost by the Republican majority in 2005, a failure she witnessed first-hand while drafting legislation on health care and transportation for McMorris-Rodgers. Herrera believes her fellow freshmen are “not immature people, and have a good sense of that process.” Almost two-thirds of the nearly 100 new members of Congress have served in their state’s legislature, and “no one has their hopes pinned on changing everything on a dime.”

Committee assignments for the 112th Congress will likely be announced soon. Herrera hopes to serve on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, one of the most sought after committees, and that which oversees health care, a top priority for Herrera while serving as a Washington state representative. 

Thomas O'Ban is an intern at THE WEEKLY STANDARD.

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