Padden attends White House conference on key issues affecting Washington

Conference included surprise appearances by Vice President Pence and White House Counselor Kellyanne Conway

On Thursday, Oct. 11, Sen. Mike Padden represented the Washington State Senate at a White House conference with Pacific Northwest state and local leaders. The conference included remarks and discussions with key administration officials and policymakers on issues affecting the states of Washington and Oregon, and featured an appearance by Vice President Mike Pence.

“So many issues that affect our citizens – from transportation to forest management – are either decided or influenced by the federal government,” said Padden, R-Spokane Valley. “It is critical that we be able to work effectively with federal officials and know who to turn to when we have questions or need assistance for our constituents.”

Padden was invited to the conference by the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs, which serves as the primary liaison between the White House and state, county, local, and tribal governments.

Presenters included:

  • Douglas Hoelscher, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director of White House Intergovernmental Affairs;
  • Frank Brogan, Assistant Secretary of Elementary and Secondary Education, U.S. Department of Education;
  • Anthony Bedell, Deputy Assistant Secretary, U.S. Department of Transportation;
  • Paul Lawrence, Undersecretary for Benefits, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs; and
  • Secretary Ryan Zinke, U.S. Department of Interior.

“I was especially interested in Secretary Zinke’s discussion of wildfire management, considering it hasn’t even been three months since the Upriver Beacon Fire in Spokane County caused the evacuation of nearly 800 homes and evacuation warnings for thousands more,” said Padden.

Zinke, a former Montana congressman who is familiar with the wildfire situation in the Northwest, told attendees that years of failure to effectively tend the region’s forests means more dead logs and other “fuels” that cause hotter, more intense wildfires. He supports reducing the fuel load through prescribed burns, mechanical thinning and timber harvests – actions Padden and a majority of state legislators have endorsed at the state level in the past two years.

In addition to fire management, the secretary also discussed plans to plant early-detection beacons in national parks as an early-warning system for earthquakes.

Padden noted that a couple of surprise visitors interrupted the event schedule, including the vice president.

“Vice President Mike Pence stopped by to let the state and local officials know he supports turning over more federal responsibilities to state and local officials. He indicated the Trump-Pence administration was a 10th Amendment friendly administration. Then White House counselor Kellyanne Conway joined us to discuss the opioid crisis, which the president declared a national emergency nearly a year ago,” Padden said.

“It was heartbreaking to hear the numbers – nearly 175 Americans die each day from opioid abuse, with a projected economic burden of nearly $500 billion annually – but Conway told us the steps the administration is taking to stop illegal drugs at the border, increase prevention education and provide additional resources for treatment are all starting to bear fruit.”

The National Survey on Drug Use and Health reports that in 2017, about 11.4 million people misused opioids – down from 12.7 million people in 2016. About 56 percent of people sought treatment for their addiction in 2017, up from 37 percent in 2016.

“While the numbers are moving in an encouraging direction, they are still way too high, and there is still much work to be done,” said Padden, who described the cross-country trip to the nation’s capital as worthwhile and potentially useful for helping constituents maneuver through the federal bureaucracy.

“Overall, the trip was not only informative, but it was also a great opportunity to make contacts within the administration who may be helpful in the future.”