When White House adviser Kellyanne Conway stepped onto the stage of an auditorium steps from the White House to address some 80 Ohio county commissioners Tuesday, the camera phones went up. But when she started answering questions, the hands did.
Licking County Commissioner Duane Flowers asked about federal dollars for the orphans and babies born addicted to opiates. “It wasn’t their fault,” he said of the kids affected, adding that the county child services agency is dealing with record numbers of kids. “But they’re there.”
Wayne County Commissioner Ann Obrecht talked about the financial crunch of paying for children of addicts, but also worried about addicts in jail. “They come off Medicaid when they’re in jail,” she said, adding the county had to foot that bill. “We’d like them to stay on.”
And Ashtabula County Commissioner Kathryn Whittington spoke of a woman who called her and admitted she needed help. “She died two days later because we were waiting for a bed,” Whittington told Conway.
The day–long event was the third the White House has organized with local government officials: They’ve already held intergovernmental affairs sessions with local officials in Michigan and Pennsylvania.
Designed to allow local governments to interact with the White House, the forum also included a session with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and White House aide Omarosa Manigault. The forum covered topics ranging from trade to infrastructure to workforce development.
Miami County Commissioner John O’Brien said he welcomed the chance to hear from the White House.
“I’ve been an elected county official for 23 years, the last 11 as commissioner, and this is the first time I’ve ever been asked to come to the White House, no matter who the administration is, to voice our needs and what’s happened to our counties,” he said.
Montgomery County Commissioner Deb Lieberman is one of the few Democrats who made the trip.
“They listened,” she said of the Trump admission officials, admitting she was “a little skeptical” about what she would hear. “They came prepared with our issues. It was nice to be heard.”
Conway said the opioid problem will require a comprehensive effort that includes prevention, intervention and a reduction in the supply of the drugs.
“I tell my Democratic friends daily this is a nonpartisan issue starving for bipartisan attention and solutions,” she said.