With the ink on the sequester order barely 24 hours old, 1,500 county government officials gathered in Washington, D.C. at NACo’s Legislative Conference March 2–5 to take the “Why Counties Matter” message to Capitol Hill and to learn new ways to keep their communities safe, secure and prosperous.
Two key communication tools in the just-launched Counties Matter campaign were debuted at the conference: a two-minute fast-paced video that uses data to dramatically delineate the impact of county government services on the communities counties serve. Also, on hand was an info graphic fact sheet, designed to be left in offices, libraries or meetings with constituents — anywhere the Counties Matter message needs to be told.
Both the video and fact sheet are available to download on NACo’s website at http://www.naco.org/countiesmatter.
NACo also changed the conference schedule to accommodate a renewed focus on taking the county message to Capitol Hill and federal agencies. Tuesday afternoon, usually reserved for workshops, was set aside for Hill office visits, with a least 50 scheduled for the day.
As the campaign for Counties Matter picked up speed so did the campaigns of the four candidates seeking election as NACo’s new second vice president. Allan Angel, Kent County, Del. Levy Court commissioner; Stan Batemon, St. Clair County, Ala. commission chair; Sallie Clark, El Paso County, Colo. commissioner; and Tim Josi, Tillamook County, Ore. commission chair not only addressed NACo members at the conference’s Opening General Session, but also made the rounds of steering committee meetings and important caucuses events.
This is the first time in more than 20 years that four candidates have vied for the office of NACo second VP.
In addition to the candidates, conference participants also heard from general session speakers as varied as Washington Post editor and author, Bob Woodward, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, Moody’s Analytics chief economist Mark Zandi, Attorney General Eric Holder, Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt (R) and Rep. Lee Terry (R-Neb.).
Many of the speakers had the nation’s fiscal woes and the sequester on their minds. Assailing sequester supporters for reducing the deficit “on the backs of middle class families, seniors and women,” Pelosi wryly observed that the “deficit hawks were an endangered species in 2008, 2009 when all this debt was being amassed.” Attorney General Holder pointed out that the sequester would cut $100 million from grants to local governments.
Blunt on the other hand welcomed the sequester’s reductions: “We’re appropriating more money than the law says we’re allowed to spend.” His colleague, Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho) decried the federal spending problem that he saw as a symptom of Congress’ distance from the taxpayers. “There’s a cavalier attitude about money, I don’t get it,” he said. “This isn’t Las Vegas; this isn’t make-believe money; it’s real money.”
Meanwhile, Bob Woodward probably echoed a common sentiment about the sequestration. “Color me baffled that these people cannot sit down and talk and figure out how to work together,” he said.
If the politicians maneuvered to convince NACo members that either the deficit or the sequester marked the end of the Republic as they knew it, Moody’s Zandi gave the opening general session an optimistic national economic forecast. “I’ve felt as good (about the U.S. economy) as I have in a decade,” he said.
He said that by adding up all deficit reduction since the austerity movement began in 2010, the 10-year deficit reduction total is $4 trillion. “One could argue that under reasonable economic assumptions, policymakers have come pretty close to fiscal sustainability,” he said. “Enough to appeal global investors.”
In other conference business: NACo renewed its Memorandum of Understanding with the Bureau of Land Management and the Forest Service; AT&T was honored with the association’s 2013 Award for Corporate Excellence; NACo Legislative Affairs Director Ed Rosado announced his retirement to the Board of Directors; and Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-N.M.), a former Bernalillo County, N.M. commissioner, was the guest speaker at the Women of NACo Leadership Network breakfast.
There will be an extended report and photo coverage of the 2013 Legisltive Conference in the March 25 issue.