While the June 2 El Centro campaign stop by Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton rightly made major news, myriad visits to Imperial County by less noteworthy decision makers have more of a major impact, business and government officials said.
As best as many can recall, the last major presidential candidates to swing through the county were Jimmy Carter in 1976 and Ronald Reagan in 1980. Visits by California governors are rare as well — Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger ducked in to survey the damage from 2010 Easter Sunday earthquake.
Clinton flew into Imperial County for a couple hours after a major speech in San Diego. Her afternoon appearance at the Barcelona Event Center drew hundreds who waited in line for hours, baking on an asphalt parking lot in 110-degree heat. Emergency vehicles shuttled in and out caring for those apparently overcome by the conditions. Hundreds more were turned away when the location reached capacity.
The scene had the aura of a major political event with some excited supporters holding signs and chanting “Hillary,” and a phalanx of law enforcement, including stoic men in suits who appeared to be Secret Service.
A few attendees darted about holding hand-made signs for Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump. Backers of Clinton’s democratic rival, Bernie Sanders, were evident as well, holding signs, passing out leaflets and occasionally yelling, “Bernie.” A lone pro-life supporter stalked about holding up a hand-made sign and urging those waiting to “choose life.”
Unlike other recent campaign events across the nation, there were no clashes, just a few heated words exchanged.
Making less of a splash in recent years have been visits by the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, head of the U.S. Economic Development Administration and the state director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
That attention is not happenstance.
“People in Imperial Valley work very hard (to get attention) at all levels of government,” noted Timothy Kelley, chief executive officer of the Imperial Valley Economic Development Corp. “It still requires the face-to-face meetings, getting them to come here. Having them come here helps them represent us better.”
Timothy Kelley noted that getting major decision makers to Imperial Valley requires locals getting out to Sacramento, Washington, D.C., and any other place those vital people meet. IVEDC and others in recent years have been relentless in getting in front of officials from key agencies.
Imperial County officials are active as well.
“The county Board of Supervisors in the last four to eight years has been very aggressive in putting Imperial County out on the map with Congress and the state Legislature. The more we rub elbows, the more we are on the map,” said Imperial County District 3 Supervisor Michael Kelley.
Michael Kelley spoke bluntly when asked about the expectations of getting key officials to visit the county: “The biggest result is the recognition of Imperial County as an important county. We expect we will receive the revenues we pay taxes for and not be on the short end of the stick.”
Explaining the practical impact of having decision makers visit the county, Timothy Kelley added, “They’re funding our programs. We are taking them to see how (those) programs are working and finding out how we can be more competitive.
“They have initiatives that deal with economic issues. As they put policies together it’s very important we get those people here to see the need, or the gaps (in current programs).”
Besides just having top officials in key agencies know about Imperial County and understanding its needs, there are other difficulties arranging visits.
“This is not the easiest place to get to. We also meet them in San Diego and Coachella Valley when they are there,” Timothy Kelley said, adding that when meeting them in a nearby area he lobbies to get them to take the next step and come to Imperial County.
More and more are taking him up on the offer. Timothy Kelley noted 47 federal officials and potential business investors toured Imperial County recently as part of the American Competitive Exchange. He explained IVEDC’s networking in Washington earned the county consideration for that and it highlights how IVEDC is arranging many tours of Imperial County for potential business investors from around the globe.
Michael Kelley said the county is having success networking in Sacramento and Washington and as an example cited the funding for the renovation and expansion of the downtown Calexico border crossing and increased attention to Salton Sea environmental issues.
“We have representatives in Sacramento and Washington that carry our message. We’re plugged in,” Michael Kelley said.
Of Clinton’s stop, which he attended, he added, “I’m impressed a candidate for the President of the United States is visiting Imperial County. It’s monumental. Now we want to make sure if she does become president she doesn’t forget Imperial County.”