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Formal invitations mistaken for spam

UPDATED: Wed., June 13, 2018, 1:25 p.m.

Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee (Courtesy)
Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee (Courtesy)

All 132 county commissioners and 105 state legislators in Idaho recently received email invitations to visit the White House and meet with senior Trump administration officials.

Despite some initial skepticism, it turns out the invitations are real. The meeting is set to take place June 22.

“I thought it was a scam, so I deleted it,” said Sen. Dan Johnson, R-Lewiston. “Then I got a phone call.”

The call was from someone with the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, checking to be sure he got the email.

Rep. Caroline Troy, R-Genesee, had a similar reaction.

“I threw it in the garbage,” she said. “I wondered if it was a hoax since it didn’t look very official.”

Seth Grigg, executive director of the Idaho Association of Counties, said this is something the Trump administration plans to do nationwide.

“They’ve already met with a dozen or so states,” he said. “We haven’t been provided with an agenda, but from what I understand it’s an opportunity for various agency heads to interact with county officials, talk about the programs and priorities of the White House, and offer them a point of contact for the issues they have.”

According to a May 20 story in Politico, the invitations are part of a Trump administration “state days” initiative aimed at establishing relationships with elected officials all across the country.

The administration has hosted at least 14 states over the past several months, including Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida. By the end of 2018, Politico says, “the White House expects every county commissioner in the country to have received an invitation to attend such an occasion.”

Now that she knows it’s legitimate, Troy said she’s impressed by the invitation, though she’s too busy to accept it.

“What a lovely gesture,” she said. “We give a lot of lip service to states’ rights, but don’t often recognize it at the federal level. Politics is all about relationships, so how cool is it that the president is extending this kind of invitation?”

Grigg said he knows of 15 or 20 county officials who plan to accept the White House offer. In north central Idaho, Clearwater County Commissioner Rick Winkel is the only commissioner who will be heading to D.C.

“We’re sending him back with a list of concerns and talking points,” said Commissioner Don Ebert, who chairs the Clearwater County Commission this year.

Ebert said there’s value in being able to meet with federal officials face-to-face and discuss local concerns.

“A lot’s going to depend on whether they accept our calls afterward,” he said. “But I’m encouraged that they want to hear from local government. We’ll try to make the most of it.”

Streamlining the environmental review process used on federal timber sales tops Clearwater County’s list of concerns, Ebert said. Working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency on disaster funding is another talking point.

“I realize our concerns are pretty minor compared to Texas or Florida, but it’s frustrating dealing with them,” he said. “Some agencies are very effective, but in general dealing with the federal government is cumbersome.”

Commissioners in Nez Perce, Latah, Lewis and Idaho counties said they won’t be accepting the White House invitation.

“I think it’s an important thing for us to do, but time constraints and budget won’t allow it,” said Greg Johnson, chairman of the Lewis County Commission. “I may have to give Commissioner Winkel a call (to add to his list of talking points), but I know he’ll represent the entire region.”

Johnson said the invitation he received was very clear that officials will not be meeting with President Donald Trump. News reports, though, indicate that other state delegations have had the opportunity to hear from various Cabinet officers, as well as Vice President Mike Pence.

Idaho County Commissioner Skip Brandt said there could be some value in meeting directly with administration officials, but the size of the group makes him skeptical.

“It’s not like it’s going to be personal,” he said. “The invitation went to all county commissioners and all state legislators, and Idaho will be grouped in with Utah. So you’re going to be in a meeting with about 300 people. It’s hard to justify something like that.”

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

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)2018 the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho)

Visit the Lewiston Tribune (Lewiston, Idaho) at www.lmtribune.com

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AP-WF-06-13-18 1231GMT