PORT TOWNSEND — Jefferson County Commissioner Kate Dean recently spent time in the other Washington to learn how the administration can help the county through programs designed for rural America.
“We learned that the administration is trying to reach out to local rural governments across the country,” said Dean of the gathering Oct. 11. “Almost every county commissioner in the country has been invited. The president wants to have more connection to communities.”
Dean, Clallam County Commissioner Bill Peach and other Washington and Oregon state county commissioners were invited to the White House by the Office of Intergovernmental Affairs.
Dean said that at 44, she was the youngest elected official in the room, and one of only three women.
“We are an old state,” she said, “so we have an older elected crowd.”
After a morning tour of the White House, Dean and her colleagues spent the afternoon in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building with several high-ranking federal officials, including Vice-President Mike Pence, who gave brief opening remarks to the group.
“Overall, I felt the content was disappointing,” Dean said. “Some speakers were very specific about policy. Many seem to understand rural issues are different and funding from the feds gives an upper hand to urban projects.”
There was discussion about President Donald Trump’s administration’s proposed infrastructure package.
“Rural roads don’t get as many miles traveled on them, but they understand that a rural county can’t afford maintenance,” Dean said.
“I wanted to address climate change and its impact on roads. Any one of those roads on the West End could be devastated by a climate event and it would wipe out our whole budget.”
Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, was the only woman from the Trump Administration to speak all day, Dean said.
Conway talked about the opioid crisis.
“Washington state is on the forefront in dealing with it,” Dean said. “I heard nothing new.
“It was a shocking moment when she [Conway] said, ‘It’s the sanctuary cities and counties that are inviting in all of the fentanyl.’ She provided no evidence for her statement.”
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke didn’t say enough about federally-owned lands, according to Dean.
“He spoke almost entirely about energy, nothing about the national parks,” Dean said. “Energy is a very small part of what Interior does. He discussed fossil fuel extractions. I wish they were focusing on renewables.”
Dean said a powerful moment during the discussion was about making the Veteran’s Administration more efficient.
“One of the county commissioners stood up and started to cry, saying it’s taken 50 years for Agent Orange exposure to be recognized and hoped that it never happens again,” she said.
“What I discovered is that we can talk about policy, but what matters is how that policy affects people every day,” Dean said.
On Friday, Dean met with the Environmental Protection Agency personnel to discuss funding for the proposed Port Hadlock Wastewater System.
“There is interest there, with progress made for determining next steps toward funding,” Dean reported.
Dean said being in Washington, D.C., helped her connect to the state’s elected official as well as federal personnel.
“Even though I disagreed with most of what had been presented, it was of great value to see there are real people behind those policies and it let me build some relationships.
“Many of my constituents wanted me to go and do a grand protest,” she said.
“I couldn’t do that. It doesn’t further the dialogue. I have such sadness about the state of our country discourse right now. Even though I’m upset about many of the things said, we have to hang in and be a dissenting voice to move the conversation slowly.
“It was an interesting dynamic,” the Democrat said. “I wanted Jefferson County to have a voice. My style is to give an opportunity to speak and then defer. The same three to four men were being called on all the time. I did not agree with what they were saying. Men and women might have different styles, but the format lent itself to the loudest people in the room being heard.
“I’m looking forward to going back. We can only have a voice at the table if we insert ourselves there.”
One viewpoint from Dean’s experience was a view out of the window.
“During the tour, I looked out and saw Baron Trump’s soccer goal on the White House lawn,” she said. “I was reminded of my own children who are of similar ages. I appreciate that they are normal people, just like us.”
Jefferson County Editor/Reporter Jeannie McMacken can be reached at 360-385-2335 or at [email protected]