Q&A with New Democrat Coalition Chair, Rep. Derek Kilmer
What is your primary objective for the New Democrat Coalition during the 116th Congress?
What gets me psyched about the New Dems is that we look at old problems through a new lens – not just for the party but also for our country. The New Dems are laser-focused on growing the economic pie and on growing jobs in urban areas, suburbs, and rural America. Whether we’re engaging on infrastructure, the future of work, or other issues, there’s an enormous need for impact as we work to create more economic opportunity for more people in more places.
Beyond that, the Coalition’s approach is to make government work better and reinvent it for the 21st Century. New Dems want to govern and legislate – not just investigate – with the goal of making people’s lives better.
The Coalition now has 101 total Members and 40 Freshman Members. This makes us the largest ideological House Democratic caucus. This is the largest the Coalition has ever been. This also means New Democrats will make up over one-third (42%) of the Democratic Caucus.
How can Congress create more job opportunities for Americans while growing the country’s economy?
I spent a decade working in economic development in Tacoma, and I wish I could tell you there was a silver bullet to job creation. I just don’t think that’s true. I think it’s more like silver buckshot. There’s a whole bunch of things that Congress ought to do on this front.
In that regard, the New Democrat Coalition has launched eight policy task forces to help Americans get ahead in a changing economy and make America more secure. These task forces will focus on developing policy positions for the Coalition to advance in both the near term and long term.
Congress ought to prioritize the notion that people should have economic opportunity – that they should be able to earn a good living, regardless of their zip code. As wage growth stagnates and traditional jobs change or disappear, more and more American workers are struggling to find opportunities to earn a good living. Our coalition is focused on ensuring that the American people are empowered to navigate that economic change – not to be victims of it. That means providing more educational opportunities (from apprenticeships to college opportunities to lifelong learning). It means investments in research that ensure that the next big innovations happen here rather than someplace else. It means making smart investments to modernize our infrastructure and bridge the digital divide.
This freshman class is the most diverse in history and certainly has some rising stars among its ranks. Who are new members you think we should keep an eye on?
I am so excited by all the freshman joining the New Democrat Coalition this Congress – especially the 31 who flipped districts from red to blue this cycle to help Democrats gain the House Democratic majority. The Coalition has veterans, national security experts, law enforcement leaders, state and local elected officials, entrepreneurs, lawyers, and even an NFL linebacker as Members this Congress. But the common denominator among every person in the coalition is that they are here to make a difference. They want to create more economic opportunities for more people across the country.
To give the 40 Freshman NDC members a voice in our Coalition’s direction, I created an additional leadership member position and an assistant whip position reserved for the incoming freshman. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan is the Freshman Leadership Representative and Rep. Mikie Sherrill is the Freshman Whip. I would keep an eye on these rockstar leaders within our caucus. Within the broader caucus, the Freshman Class Co-Presidents and New Democrat Coalition Members Reps. Haley Stevens and Collin Allred are also Members to watch this Congress.
What do you think should be the top policy objectives of Congress over the next two years?
The American people gave Democrats the majority with the expectation that we’d actually get some things done to make their lives better.
First and foremost, we’ve got to strengthen access to quality affordable healthcare. In recent years, there’s been a clear effort by Congress and by the Trump Administration to undermine our health care system. That needs to end. If you’ve got a pre-existing condition, if you’re dealing with a major health issue, you shouldn’t have to worry that elected officials in DC will make your life more complicated. Toward that end, the New Dems have laid out plans focused on stabilizing the insurance marketplace and enabling more people to have access to health care.
Second, while some areas have seen economic growth, the reality is that there are still a lot of communities and a lot of families that are feeling squeezed. There are a lot of communities that are concerned that their main export will be young people. Whether we’re engaging on smarter trade policies, workforce development, infrastructure investment, fixes to the tax code or other efforts, Congress should work on the notion that – regardless of your zip code – you should have the opportunity to earn a good living.
Third, we’ve got to fix this broken political system. I’m conscious of the fact that Congress is less popular than head lice, colonoscopies, and Nickelback. We’ve simply got to move forward some reforms to restore public faith and trust. Toward that end, the New Dems have been engaged in authoring and endorsing bills to reduce the role of money in politics, to make it easier – not harder – to vote, and to strengthen our ethics rules.
Relatedly, we’ve seen multiple years of dysfunction in the budget process. It may seem like a ridiculously low bar, but I’d be psyched if Congress could stop shutting down the government.
Finally, we finally have a majority in Congress that is willing to acknowledge that climate change is real and that it’s time to do something about it. It’s well past time for some forward progress on this issue.
What do you do for fun in your district?
I’ve got two little girls – Sophie and Tess. When it’s raining (October through May), we hit a lot of movies. There’s a great theater in my town with reclining seats and even a salt bar (yes – a salt bar!).
When the sun is out, we absolutely love visiting the national parks in and around my district. I’ve taken my girls hiking on Hurricane Ridge. We’ve climbed up Mailbox Peak (and written a letter to the universe). We’ve visited the Hoh Rainforest and hung out at one of my all-time favorite places to go — Ruby Beach. Washington state is just one of the most beautiful places on earth, so I try to spend as my free time celebrating our national treasures and the beautiful landscapes that surround us.
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