Following his trip this week to Washington, D.C., Chubbuck Mayor Kevin England definitely feels like he now has some friends in high places.
And one of them is Vice President Mike Pence, who the mayor met after attending a federal government-sponsored leadership event for officials from western states held in the Eisenhower Building next to the White House on Wednesday.
“I believe that in just a short 10-minute period I was able to develop a relationship with the vice president,” England said about his meeting with Pence.
Pence had intended to address the nearly 1,000 officials from Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, North Dakota, South Dakota, Washington state, Oregon and Wyoming at the leadership event but at the last minute another commitment caused him to cancel.
While meeting Pence was a pretty lucky experience, England said the leadership conference was just as exciting. Most insightful of the interactions with federal officials were conversations England had with Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and an official with the U.S. Department of Transportation.
England said he spoke to Bernhardt about the relocation of the Bureau of Land Management headquarters from Washington, D.C. to Fort Collins, Colorado, and the importance of ensuring Southeast Idaho can benefit from the agency’s move.
“From what I heard the decision to move it to (Colorado) is a done deal,” England said. “But Bernhardt also recognized the importance of satellite offices where all of the work is going on. I spent the bulk of my time making the case that our area here in Southeast Idaho would be a good fit for one of those (BLM) satellite offices.”
In talking about transportation issues, England said most of the questions he had focused on the infrastructure needs of the Pocatello-Chubbuck area.
“We don’t have the bridge problem that many folks do, but the city of Chubbuck has needs that we recognize have federal, state and local implications and I wanted to create a communication line with the federal part of things,” England said.
England said he spoke to the U.S. Department of Transportation official about the potential problems that might be created when the Interstate 15 Northgate interchange on Chubbuck’s east side opens in November.
“The interchange in and of itself is a problem because the Feds didn’t help us out there and I think they should have,” England said. “I think we were led down a primrose path because I tried to get (federal) grants for that project for several years before I realized it wasn’t going anywhere. We could have done more with that with these connections that I have now formed.”
England continued, “These conversations are crucial when you think about the intersection at Yellowstone and Siphon already being a nightmare. And when the interchange opens up it will substantially increase traffic flows. We need a light there (at Yellowstone and Siphon) or we will start seeing traffic diversion to Whitaker or Hiline roads. But now, I have people that I can engage at the federal level to get first-hand answers to our concerns.”
And following the meeting between England and Pence, the vice president is now one of those federal officials Chubbuck can turn to, the mayor said.
England said the fact his conversation with Pence occurred by sheer luck is what made the meeting so special.
“It was an interesting experience because it was just a happenstance meeting,” England said. “After we had concluded the state leadership day event I went out the back doors between the Eisenhower Building and the West Wing for some pictures because you don’t get to see (the White House) from that angle very often. That’s when Pence came out and I had the opportunity to chat with him for a while and take a picture with him.”
England continued, “We didn’t talk about anything in too much depth, but he was very congenial. He told me he missed the fact he was unable to address us but reiterated that this (western states leadership) initiative is something they have a real commitment to, that at the federal level they really want to listen much closer to us who were elected locally. (Pence) said the local government is where the rubber meets the road and that he knows that’s where the real answers come from.”
England said he would definitely vote for Pence if the current vice president ever decides to run for president.
England said Pence appeared to genuinely care about the issues and concerns he faces as the mayor of Chubbuck. Moreover, England said Pence told him that if he was ever unsatisfied with the assistance received from federal agencies and departments to never hesitate to reach out to him directly.
“He talked to me about who I was and what I did here in Idaho and the challenges that we face,” England said. “He was as genuine as he could be and it was obvious to me that the basic premise from him was that if I wasn’t getting the answers I needed to from the (federal) officials we met during the (leadership conference) to not be afraid to call his office. It was so sincere.”
Pence also gave England a tour of his office, with permission to take photos so long as the mayor didn’t post them to social media.
“I believe we have a personal relationship now,” England said about himself and the vice president. “Pence told me that he will likely be in the Pocatello area in the future and that if he does come, he would be sure to look me up. I feel like I could call this man tomorrow and he would know who I was, and to develop a personal relationship with someone of his caliber has to be a benefit to this entire community.”
Though meeting Pence was the highlight of his trip to Washington, D.C., England said the panel presentations during the leadership conference left him leaving the nation’s capital feeling as though the visit was definitely worth it.
“They were fantastic,” England said about the presentations. “I’ve been to Washington, D.C., too many times and this was the only trip I left feeling like we did some good, like we were able to accomplish things and make some contacts that will really be able to make a difference back here at home.”