Officials meet federal leaders

County commissioners invited for D.C. meetings along with other state leaders

A pair of Johnson County commissioners spent two days in Washington D.C. as part of an effort to make connections with leaders of federal agencies.

Commissioners Brian Baird and Kevin Walls, along with about 40 other elected officials from Indiana, sat through a rapid-fire series of meetings with directors of federal agencies such as the Department of Agriculture and Department of Health and Human Services. They heard from those officials about the issues they are working on and how that could impact Indiana residents, as well as shared their perspectives about steps the federal government could take to aid in situations, such as the opioid crisis.

The purpose of the trip was to connect local officials, who interact with their constituents on a daily basis, with federal officials responsible for making decisions that could have enormous impacts on the lives of Americans, Baird said.

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Baird said he appreciates that federal officials are willing to take the time to make these connections and want to learn more about the people they are trying to create policies to help.

While the meetings with each agency were brief, Baird and Walls said they were able to get contact information so that they could continue these conversations in order to help federal officials understand how the policies they are working on impact Americans.

When Baird first received an email from the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs inviting him to be part of the delegation Oct. 18, he wasn’t initially certain the trip, which he had less than a week to plan for, would be worth his time. But after talking with other county commissioners in Indiana, he decided to go.

“I felt fortunate I was invited, “ Baird said. “This was a great opportunity for Johnson County and an even better opportunity for our nation.”

Other members of the group included commissioners from Hamilton County and State Sen. Rodric Bray, who represents parts of Johnson County. The White House has been inviting delegations of representatives from multiple states, Baird said.

Baird and Walls said they both paid for the trip themselves, flying to Washington D.C. on Oct. 25 and coming back the next day.

The meetings with the agency officials lasted from about 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., without any breaks as the group met with officials from the agriculture, energy, homeland security, transportation and, health and humans services departments, Baird said. They talked about issues including the opioid epidemic, transportation and healthcare, though the speed of the meetings didn’t allow for the conversations to go too in-depth. Opioid abuse is an issue Baird plans to continue to talk to federal officials about.

Walls said White House officials used the analogy of speed dating to describe the meetings.

He intends to follow up with officials from the Department of Transportation, to talk about funding issues and how local governments can receive better assistance.

This was the first trip to the nation’s capital for both commissioners. Baird and Walls went on a tour of the White House and heard from Vice President Mike Pence and Kellyanne Conway, who serves as counselor to the president.

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Jacob Tellers is a reporter at the Daily Journal. He can be reached at jtellers@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2702.