PORT TOWNSEND — The White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs will host approximately 100 state and local elected officials from Washington and Oregon on Thursday, and among them will be Clallam County Commissioner Bill Peach and Jefferson County Commissioner Kate Dean.
The focus of the Washington-Oregon State Day Meeting will be on agriculture, health care, improving infrastructure, workforce development and trade policies.
Peach, a Beaver Republican who is up for re-election Nov. 6, challenged by Democrat Mike Doherty, represents District 3, from the west side of Port Angeles to Neah Bay.
He was on his way to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday and was not available for comment.
Dean said that some of her colleagues from eastern Washington are attending, “but so far I am the only woman and Democrat that I know is going from the state.”
Jefferson County Commissioner Kathleen Kler was invited but chose not to attend because her time on the commission is limited as she is not running for re-election.
“We’ll be doing a tour of the White House with a dignitary which might be Vice President [Mike] Pence, or the first lady, or Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president,” Dean said. “We’ll be meeting with a few cabinet secretaries in the afternoon. We have not been told who those are.”
In preparation for the meeting, Dean said she’s been collecting talking points for each of the major agencies that the commission interacts with at the county level including the Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Commerce, Department of Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development and Education.
“It’s been very valuable to spend the time just learning the issues of each of these agencies,” she said.
“If I had a minute in front of the president I would be saying we desperately need infrastructure. The idea that government can run as a business does not work in rural counties, especially the message from the federal government that rural counties need to retool, that we need to get beyond the old days of our timber-based economy.”
Dean said that the federal government has continued to cut programs such as Secure Rural Schools which were intended to help back-fill as harvests of federal forests declined due to the Endangered Species Act and regulation.
“That was a subsidy to help counties like ours,” Dean said. “That funding has diminished. Without earmarks, without federal dollars to invest in infrastructure, it’s hard for us to retool into a new type of economy.
“The numbers just don’t work without significant help. Infrastructure is so expensive and we don’t have the numbers of people to support the capital expense and barely the operating costs.”
“That is my No. 1 talking point, in general,” she said.
Dean said this experience has been an education for her.
“I work in government and I’m used to transparency. I’ve been surprised at the lack of information coming from the administration on the event. I like to plan to use my time well. The county is paying my airfare and I want to use that time and resource well. It’s been a challenge to determine the best way to do that when I don’t know who I’m meeting with.
“I feel just having an opportunity to have a voice at the table — I can’t pass that up. This county deserves representation and a voice. Rural counties are often left out of the conversation and many people in Jefferson County feel left out of this administration’s goals and policies.
“To have an opportunity to have a voice, it’s incumbent upon me to take that opportunity.”
According to White House spokesperson Judd Deere, The Office of Intergovernmental Affairs has almost completed a two-year initiative to host county commissioners from all 50 states at the White House for conversations on improving the federal-local relationship.
“Connecting state and local elected officials with White House officials and those in the federal departments and agencies improves relationships, promotes federalism and advances shared priorities,” Deere said.
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]