President Donald Trump and his administration want to help local elected officials work through community problems, like opioid addiction, the need for water storage and better forest management — at least that’s the impression San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Debbie Arnold got after she attended one of the White House’s “state days” with senior administration officials on Tuesday.
“When they want to work on something, they want to get close to the people. Grassroots,” Arnold said about her trip to Washington, D.C., in a phone interview with The Tribune. “(Trump) really cares about making improvements when they’re needed, in an efficient way. It was like a ‘help me help you guys. Tell me what’s really going on and together we can be more efficient.’”
The administration over the last few months has invited every county supervisor (or commissioner) in the country from both parties to meet with officials. Some political analysts have said it’s part of a 2020 strategy to turn Trump skeptics into supporters.
Arnold was the lone representative from San Luis Obispo County to attend the last of more than a dozen such events; Tuesday’s event was for leaders in California, Hawaii and Alaska. She was delighted to learn that though it wasn’t on the agenda, Trump — whom she voted for — made a surprise appearance and spoke for about 30 minutes.
Trump “was really casual and caring,” she said, when he talked about the problem of duplication in permitting for bridges, roads, and public safety projects that have been stalled for so long, and the need for his cabinet members to streamline the environmental review process to move infrastructure project forward faster. He also talked about the importance of vocational education and the need for water storage in California.
The president’s assistant Kellyanne Conway spoke about the battle against opioid addiction and the money they’re putting into the epidemic — potential resources that Arnold said she wants to follow up on to bolster local efforts.
“We have an opportunity with this administration. Let’s see if we can work with them to act on it and roll some funding our way,” Arnold said. “I’m going to see if they mean it. They gave us the numbers and the people. They’re going to help us work through it. That’s what they said.”
Arnold also took advantage of the opportunity to directly lobby the under secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Jim Hubbard, on behalf of cattlemen.
During a conversation about the need to manage federal forests for wildfire prevention, Arnold said that the forest service has made it more difficult for cattlemen to obtain grazing permits on federal lands, which she says can help manage underbrush.
She said she will use the new contacts she received to push for funding for county roads and move infrastructure projects forward like raising the Salinas Dam to add storage capacity at Santa Margarita Lake.
“Now I have to follow up and use these connections to get what we want,” Arnold said.
This was Arnold’s third trip to Washington, D.C., since the beginning of 2017. She traveled there in November to discuss how the federal tax overhaul would disproportionately affect Californians, and the previous May with a group of county leaders to lobby for movement on several local projects, including the Salinas Dam proposal.