Huron Mayor Rey Leon is enrolled in Lobbying 101 this week, as the political newcomer joins other Fresno County elected officials in an annual trip to pitch Congress and the White House on local projects.
It’s the sort of effort that goes on all over the Capitol these days, the armies who march through the halls, largely unnoticed by the media, looking for money and policies that mean so much back home.
Along with 15 other participants, a mix of elected officials, staffers and others, the Fresno officials want support for seven priority projects. The targets range from $44.5 million to work on Veteran’s Boulevard in Fresno and $10 million for establishment of a Central Valley Forestry Corps to remove and replace dead trees in the Sierra Nevada to $18 million for State Route 269 bridge construction.
“I just was elected mayor,” Leon said, “but I’ve been working on the State Route 269 bridge since 2006. It’s something my community urgently needs. It’s something we require.”
Flooding from Arroyo Pasajero Creek has shut down State Route 269 more than 551 days since 1976, officials say. When the road is closed, Huron residents must make a 28-mile detour for services. Officials describe the long-discussed bridge as “shovel-ready” once full funding is received, though Leon noted that some recently arising Army Corps of Engineers’ issues must also be resolved.
Like so many others who make this spring vigil to the Capitol, the Fresno crew wants help with roads, bridges and job training. They’re meeting with San Joaquin Valley lawmakers, congressional staffers and federal bureaucrats. They’re hoping, by week’s end, to have gathered tactical and strategic intelligence while they rally California’s congressional delegation.
“What I’ve learned is that the agencies and representatives’ staff members are receptive,” Leon said Tuesday morning, standing outside of a first-floor meeting room in the Cannon House Office Building. “It sounds like we might find some resolve here.”
The real challenge, though, will arise in coming months as an often-fractious Congress and a periodically distracted Trump administration struggle through tax, budget, health care and infrastructure proposals. The messy legislative terrain and the seemingly unfathomable work that results is on display this week, as lawmakers vote on a roughly 1,600-page spending package jammed together at the last minute to avoid a government shutdown.
It is very important to do these trips, and with one voice to speak up on issues that are very important.
Parlier Mayor Alma M. Beltran
Elected as mayor of the town of about 6,700 residents last November, Leon is now participating in his first Fresno Council of Governments “One Voice” trip. The idea, similar to that employed each spring by other San Joaquin Valley counties, is to identify a limited number of projects around which city and county officials can unify their lobbying clout.
The Merced County Association of Governments likewise has a “One Voice” lobbying trip scheduled for this week, as does the San Joaquin Council of Governments. All follow a similar template, relying on the power of joined voices and the personal touch, seasoned with some practical concessions like the recognition that Congress now bans traditional earmarks..
“Our ability to speak with one unified voice for the county and communities we represent sends a strong message about our regional collaboration and the importance of these projects,” Manteca Mayor Steve DeBrum said in a statement.
Their Capitol Hill way smoothed in part by D.C.-based lobbyist Len Simon, whose firm also represents the city of Fresno, the Fresno COG team traveled to the White House grounds on Monday and set up shop for much of Tuesday in the Cannon building, for a succession of presentations. The trip concludes Thursday.