WASHINGTON — San Luis Obispo businessman Alan Strasbaugh came to Congress a skeptic. Of course, he was not alone.
On Tuesday, Strasbaugh joined about 30 other Central Coast residents in a Capitol Hill day devoted to job creation. He’d like to believe the government can help. He’s just not sure it can.
“I’m frustrated with our politicians,” Strasbaugh acknowledged. “I’ve tried in the past to get access to some of these government programs, and I found it frustrating.”
Many agree with him; 86 percent of Californians surveyed in August said they disapprove of how Congress is doing its job, according to a recent Field Poll.
Nonetheless, Strasbaugh was willing to give it a shot when Rep. Lois Capps, D-Santa Barbara, invited him to participate in a biennial fly-in for constituents. Dubbed “Job Creation Day,” the program gave residents of San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara and Ventura counties a brief but tantalizing view of how Washington works.
The event was different from the annual lobbying trips many local officials take in search of federal dollars. Strasbaugh, chairman and chief executive officer of a technology company that bears his name, instead joined with San Luis Obispo-based employment attorney Kathy Eppright, Ty and Trudie Safreno from Trust Automation and others in search of information and, perhaps, a little guidance.
Some lessons they learned were specific and concrete. Panelists, for instance, discussed tax credits, clean energy policies and access to capital initiatives. Some audience members took notes, their pockets stuffed with business cards ready to hand out.
“Hearing this directly from the people involved, and having direct contact with them, is invaluable,” said Claire Clark, economic development manager for the city of San Luis Obispo.
In particular, Clark voiced interest in “anything the federal government can do to make it simpler” to participate in federal programs, and in seeing those programs succeed.
Programs definitely abound. Last year, Census Bureau records show, the federal government spent $1.7 billion in San Luis Obispo County.
Strasbaugh’s own firm has received NASA contracts in the past, records show. The dominant theme Tuesday, though, focused less on outright government spending than federal policies that can spur private business.
“We think the path to prosperity is small business and entrepreneurship,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told the visitors.
Other Capitol Hill lessons Tuesday were more implicit — atmospheric, even. There was the Metro system, impressively clean and efficient, and the many bustling young aides, and the seemingly endless underground tunnels connecting one House building to another.
Participants could also see a combination of congressional pull and courtesy in action. Capps secured appearances by three colleagues, including Pelosi and House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland, as well as time with top White House economic officials.
The presentations varied, from Pelosi’s familiar-sounding stump speech, fairly general in its outlines, to a somewhat more provocative discussion of immigration policy by Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose.
“Our goal is to bridge the miles between the district and Washington, D.C.,” Capps said. “They could find this information in other ways, but there’s a synergy that happens when they are here.”
Capps paid for the breakfast and lunch, through her House office allowance, but participants were responsible for their travel costs.