County Supervisors Lori Cowan and Chris Howard rubbed elbows with an unexpected guest during a trip to Washington D.C. last month.

At a meeting with members of the Trump Administration, in addition to hearing from the secretaries of the interior, transportation and veterans affairs, Cowan and Howard said they and elected officials from 33 other California counties spent 20 to 25 minutes with the president.

“He’s like you see on TV,” Howard said. “He’s a pretty black and white guy. He’s full of a heck of a lot of humor and he doesn’t mince his words, and he doesn’t care about the reaction he elicits from anybody in the audience. But he does engage. He does very much engage you as a person.”

The Oct. 23 meeting with Donald Trump and members of his cabinet is part of his administration’s State Leadership Conference Series, which was organized by the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. According to a news release by the California State Association of Counties, Cowan and Howard participated in the conference along with 50 other county officials from California.

According to Howard, local representatives from Alaska also took part in the Oct. 23 meeting with Trump’s cabinet. Representatives from Hawaii were also invited to attend.

For Howard and Cowan, the State Leadership Conference was part of a three-day trip to Washington D.C., from Oct. 22 to Oct. 24. That trip also included meetings with representatives from the Office of National Drug Control Policy on the opioid epidemic as well as USDA Rural Development on loans affecting both the Crescent City Harbor and Tri Agency Development Authority.

Howard said discussions with the USDA are important because under the current regulations and policies, which are set by Congress, there’s little room for flexibility. USDA representatives are starting to recognize the need for flexibility in their loan policies because communities and local governments throughout the U.S. are having trouble paying down their loans, Howard said.

“I think that’s the best news on these trips to Washington D.C. I’ve heard in a long time,” Howard said, adding that if Measure C hadn’t passed, the city or county could potentially have taken ownership of the Crescent City Harbor, along with the responsibility of paying down its $5.2 million loan with the USDA.

“If they begin to allow some flexibility that would allow loan rates to be adjusted for municipalities having a tough time making it,” Howard said. “Let’s say the harbor, for instance, that has basically been telling us they had essentially two years left of reserve operating capital. That could help them out a lot to get ahead of the curve and be able to make some money and improvements to attract business back in and help pay off this loan that they had.”

Howard and Cowan also met with staff from Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office and Congressman Jared Huffman’s staff to discuss Last Chance Grade, the Essential Air Service that helps fund the Del Norte County Airport as well as the Crescent City Harbor’s loan.

Cowan said she visited the Federal Aviation Administration to show them renderings of the new airport terminal and to thank them.

“They were a little overwhelmed by that,” Cowan said. “No one’s ever come in just to say thank you.”

According to Cowan and Howard, the State Leadership Conference on Oct. 23 included appearances by Director of White House Intergovernmental Affairs and Deputy Assistant to the President Douglas Hoelscher, Cabinet Secretary Bill McGinleys, Andrew Wheeler, head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, USDA Secretary Jim Hubbard and Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president.

However, Cowan said the presentations by Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke and Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao were her favorites.

According to Howard, part of Zinke’s presentation focused on the Klamath River and what government efficiency would look like. Zinke, according to Howard, noted that the Department of Commerce through NOAA Marine Fisheries regulates the salmon in the river while the U.S. Department of Energy regulates the utilities. Howard said Zinke noted that his own agency regulates “whether or not you have water in those rivers” while the USDA focuses on the farms upstream.

“All these agencies have a voice and a process,” Howard said, paraphrasing Zinke. “All have regulation, and when it comes to efficiencies in governments they weren’t finding a lot of efficiencies when they got themselves into these positions and (they’re now) having conversations effective to getting the job done for the American people. That’s driving the discussion, especially with him when he engages with a lot of cabinet secretaries.”

According to Cowan, Chao talked about the Sterling Highway in Alaska, which, she said, was finally completed through the Trump Administration. Cowan said she was also able to have some one-on-one time with a member of Chao’s staff to discuss Last Chance Grade.

“That to me was really huge for Del Norte County, to be able to have that one-on-one at that level to say ‘hey, this is what’s going on,’” Cowan said.

Trump made an appearance at the conference to receive a resolution from Shasta County Supervisor Les Baugh thanking his administration for their help during the Carr Fire. According to Howard, California’s wildfires was one of two main topics the president focused on.

“(Trump said) you guys have to figure out how to manage your resources better because this is unacceptable and the federal government can’t continue to afford to pay for this,” Howard said.

According to Howard, Trump also touched on California’s water issues. Howard said Trump campaigned during California’s most recent drought, visiting with farmers in the central valley. According to Howard, farmers told Trump that they “either can’t get water or they’re charging us for water, which we can’t afford.”

Trump noted that California agriculture not only feeds the U.S., it feeds the world, according to Howard.

“(Trump’s) concern was we have to get our act together on water and in particular utilize it correctly and feeding our people is our No. 1 priority,” Howard said, adding that this drew applause from Kings County Supervisor Craig Pederson. “Craig got to the microphone and started having a conversation right there with the president of the United States and how his family farm was lost around water wars within the Central Valley. He was in tears. The president recognized the fact that this was an issue, not just an issue for Craig, but an issue for many farmers in the U.S. and one that his administration wants to help the State of California address.”

According to Cowan, the State Leadership Conference series had been going on for about a year and the meeting with representatives from California, Alaska and Hawaii was the last.

“We were told that we wouldn’t see maybe two of the nine speakers and that’s about it,” she said, adding that everyone showed up. “It was a great day and something I’ll never forget.”

Reach Jessica Cejnar at jcejnar@triplicate.com .

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