WASHINGTON — Firebaugh City Manager Jose Ramirez is working every angle but one as he seeks federal funding this week.
In a case study of political networking, Ramirez is calling upon friends of friends. He played a bank shot off of a Fresno State professor, whose son now works in the White House. For other meetings, sheer chutzpah helped.
"I'm looking at all the links," Ramirez said in between meetings Tuesday. "I have to hustle."
But unlike some other San Joaquin Valley officials, Ramirez has not hired professional lobbyists. The decision was both tactical and financial; and, from Firebaugh's perspective, it may be too early to tell if it was the right one.
Accompanied by the city's grant writer and by Alfredo Cuellar, an associate professor at California State University, Fresno, Ramirez arrived in Washington about 1 a.m. Tuesday. Each man is playing a role in the trip that ends Thursday.
Grant writer Jim Gordon knows the details of the city's funding requests, such as the application for funding from the Justice Department's Community Oriented Policing Services program. Firebaugh was turned down last year. This year, the city officials hope their luck has changed so they can hire new police officers.
Cuellar, who teaches in Fresno State's Kremen School of Education and Human Development, brings his expertise and his bloodlines.
Cuellar's son, Mariano-Florentino Cuellar, is a Stanford Law School professor currently on leave to serve on the White House staff. Officially, he is special assistant to the president for justice and regulatory policy. Unofficially, he helped facilitate a Tuesday morning meeting between his father, the two Firebaugh officials and two White House government liaison officials.
"He made it happen," Alfredo Cuellar said Tuesday.
In a similar vein, the Firebaugh visitors made use of an indirect personal connection to work with Ellie Schafer, the director of the White House Visitors Office.
"Every little bit helps," Ramirez said.
The Firebaugh agenda is a familiar one.
Leaders of the Fresno County town of about 5,700 residents want funding from the Agriculture Department, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Justice Department, among others. After one meeting in the Old Executive Office Building next to the White House, the visitors marched over to meet with Census Bureau officials.
They did it all without paid lobbyists, which sets Firebaugh apart from some larger Valley municipalities. Fresno, for instance, paid a Washington lobbying firm $58,966 last year, records show. Modesto paid a lobbyist $110,000 last year, the city of Merced paid $7,500 and Visalia paid $60,000.
Officials from cities that hire lobbyists, and the lobbyists themselves, say the money spent comes back many times over. Others, including some lawmakers, aren't so sure.
"I don't really believe they need lobbyists," said Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, though he added that "maybe the bigger counties do; it depends, in part, on how the congressional districts are drawn."
Some congressional districts, Nunes explained, are spread over so many cities and counties that lobbyists might help rivet attention from an otherwise-distracted lawmaker. Some California congressional districts, for instance, sprawl over as many as 10 counties.
Ramirez said that meetings are sometimes easier without lobbyists, as administration officials can sometimes be leery because of reporting or recusal requirements. Cash-strapped cities like Firebaugh also ill-afford additional expenses, Ramirez added.