Arizonans join local leaders for White House pitch on Obama’s agenda

Phoenix Councilwoman Kate Gallego at the White House, where she joined other local officials for a day of meetings promoting President Barack Obama’s agenda at the local level. (Photo by Charles McConnell/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – For the second time in six weeks, Arizona lawmakers were on hand at the White House Friday to get a pitch from administration officials on President Barack Obama’s policy priorities.

Coconino County Supervisor Elizabeth Archuleta and Phoenix Councilwoman Kate Gallego joined about 25 lawmakers from 16 other states for daylong meetings with administration officials on everything from climate change to workplace issues.

A White House official said the meetings are part of a broad effort by the administration to reach out and “advance the president’s agenda” in local communities across the country.

“We work to continually engage state legislators, city and county elected leaders via White House meetings, calls and webinars,” the official said.

Friday’s session followed a similar set of daylong briefings for statehouse officials on Sept. 30, as the White House presses ahead at the local level on several issues that have been difficult to advance in Washington.

“The White House is convening local leaders from all over the country who are interested in the president’s priorities on issues like jobs and health care,” Gallego said.

Archuleta was not immediately for comment Friday on the meetings.

Gallego said she has been working with the White House already on at least one of the issues pressed Friday, My Brother’s Keeper, the president’s initiative to increase opportunities for young men and women in the U.S. – especially young men of color.

“We were able to get hundreds of young people jobs in partnership with the Department of Labor and the White House,” Gallego said about a recent event in Phoenix that was part of the initiative.

The White House meetings also included a focus on “climate change and resiliency,” which Gallego said particularly hit home for her. During her first year on the council, she said, Phoenix experienced major flooding that forced people from their homes, only to return to more flooding.

“It was really eye-opening for us, so we want to make sure we partner with the federal government to try to build the infrastructure we need to make sure that never happens again,” Gallego said.

Also on the agenda Friday were pitches for the administration’s calls for a higher minimum wage and paid family and sick leave.

But those policies were probably an easier sell to the local lawmakers than they will be to other groups back home. The Arizona Chamber of Commerce, for one, opposes mandated changes that diminish the authority of individual employers.

“The Arizona Chamber would oppose efforts that would come between employers and the employee and the ability for employers to manage their workplace at the local level,” said Garrick Taylor, a chamber spokesman.

The White House said 29 local jurisdictions are already “taking action to increase wages” and several more instituting either paid sick leave or paid family leave.

But Taylor said those decisions should be made at the state level because they will affect the state as whole.

“These are issues of statewide concern, and we do not want a crazy quilt of policies around (the) state where workplace regulations vary wildly from city to city,” he said.