This (Thursday) afternoon at the White House, Park County commissioners Tim French and Loren Grosskopf will be among a handful of Wyoming and North Dakota officials getting the undivided attention of some of President Donald Trump’s top advisers.
It’s unlikely that they’ll get time with the president himself, who’s been inviting county, state and municipal-level officials from across the country to the White House this year. But Vice President Mike Pence is a possibility: He dropped in on officials from Arkansas last week.
“What we’ve been told is it’s a day-to-day decision who comes,” Grosskopf said Tuesday. The commissioners do expect to at least get some time with a couple of Trump’s cabinet members and Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders.
Grosskopf and French are among six commissioners — out of 93 in Wyoming — who decided to take Trump up on his invitation.
At a meeting earlier this month, French said that, “if we can make a direct connection with the White House to Park County, that’s huge.”
Grosskopf added Tuesday that, “it’s too good of an opportunity to bring some of our issues forth to miss this.”
By early August, Grosskopf had already compiled roughly 15 items he wanted to discuss with federal officials. Most of them, he said, related to federal land issues. (For instance, commissioners recently urged Department of the Interior officials to move more quickly to relax federal restrictions on oil and gas development on public lands.)
Grosskopf said he also planned to relay Park County’s thanks to the president for supporting higher Payments in Lieu of Taxes to counties.
Park County commissioners received their White House invitation roughly a month ago via a nondescript email. It was low-key enough that there was initially some confusion about whether the message was legitimate. (Some Idaho officials reportedly mistook their invites for spam in June.)
Park County Sheriff Scott Steward said he also received an invitation, but “I’m not that impressed with that kind of stuff, so I don’t think I’m going to go,” he said at the commission’s Aug. 7 meeting. Steward quipped that if he went to the White House, he’d walk around asking how much everything cost.
Meanwhile, Commissioner Joe Tilden said he just couldn’t get away to D.C.
“I wish I could,” he said. “I think it’d be great.”
Invitations were also extended to city officials around Wyoming, including Powell Mayor John Wetzel, who opted not to make the trip.
“We didn’t find out until the last minute and the cost to go was a little high … and I didn’t feel it was right for the city to foot the bill for me to go,” Wetzel said Tuesday.
In addition to the six commissioners, 11 city officials traveled to D.C., making a 17-member contingent from Wyoming, Grosskopf said.
While in the nation’s capital, French and Grosskopf also plan to meet with Wyoming’s full Congressional delegation — U.S. Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and U.S. Rep. Liz Cheney — and staffers for Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.
Before their meeting, Grosskopf and French were set to get a White House tour this (Thursday) morning, which will be about the only sightseeing on the agenda.
The White House gatherings of officials from different states have been dubbed “state days.”
In a May article, Politico quoted two former aides as saying that, while the days are billed as an effort to establish relationships between local and federal officials, “they also are designed to engender new loyalty to a president some Republicans refused to support in 2016 as he begins to look ahead to his re-election campaign.”
Grosskopf said Aug. 7 that commissioners were told that Trump “admired the work of the county commissioners because the problems we deal with on a day-to-day basis, we resolve them and they’re not politically directed. We don’t have the issues of Democrats and Republicans.”
At that meeting, the Park County commissioners, who all are Republicans, brainstormed possible gifts they could bring the president.
French quipped that they could present Trump with “a dead wolf” or a ball cap that says, “Lock her up.” (That’s a phrase Trump supporters have chanted in calling for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to be jailed.) Grosskopf jokingly said they could offer the president a grizzly bear claw, but “I didn’t draw a tag, so unfortunately I won’t have a grizzly claw to give him.”
Commissioners ultimately decided to give Trump a miniature version of Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney’s famous sculpture, “Buffalo Bill — The Scout” that sits just down the street from the Park County Courthouse. Grosskopf said they attached a plaque to the 7-inch-high bronze that reads, “Making Wyoming Great, Park County, Wyoming.”