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Notebook / The County

Lobbyist Agrees Politics Isn't All Like Civics Text

November 30, 1987|JOHN NEEDHAM | Times County Bureau Chief

Jim McConnell was explaining how things really work in Washington.

It seems that Rep. Jerry Lewis, the Redlands Republican, has his heart set on getting San Timeteo Creek included in the big flood-control program on the Santa Ana River.

McConnell said he had been counting on Lewis to pressure the federal bureaucracy to get cracking on what eventually will be a $1-billion flood control project covering parts of San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange counties. But, until the Senate gives in and includes the creek in the program, Lewis "won't devote full time" to the project, McConnell said.

"That's not the way our kids learn that government works in civics class," Supervisor Roger Stanton said.

"No, it's not," McConnell conceded.

McConnell is Orange County's lobbyist in Washington, its ambassador to the court of the federal government.

He returns periodically to the county to give briefings on what's happening in the place the bureaucrats call the seat of government. The morning session was one of the occasional, always-on-Friday meetings of the county's Legislative Planning Committee.

The committee members include the supervisors--a few of whom usually show up, while others send aides--and heads of the county's agencies and departments.

The committee depends on McConnell's expertise in prying loose federal money for Orange County. He knows which assistant to what deputy undersecretary of this, that or the other thing has a piece of legislation on his desk that could mean a share of the federal pie for the county.

"The county is affected by state and federal laws, and accordingly it's important that the county maintain a presence in those capitals. . . ," Stanton said. "Jim McConnell has roots in Washington that date back to his days as a law student, and he's always done an exceptional job in representing the county's position."

McConnell has been working on the Santa Ana River flood-control legislation for years, buttonholing members of Congress from the county, telling county officials who should be contacted in Washington, checking with officials from the other counties to move the project along. Now he keeps tabs on the equally important process by which Congress appropriates money to carry out a project it already has approved.

Last June, McConnell told the Legislative Planning Committee that Lewis could "drive" the bill through Congress if he chose to. He explained that Lewis is the fourth most senior Republican in Congress, and "we should stay close to him."

Now, months later, McConnell finished his briefing on the Santa Ana River bill and ran down a list of other legislation coming up in Washington that was likely to affect Orange County:

- Refugee aid seemed set to continue, good news for a county with a large number of Vietnamese immigrants.

- A report on transportation of hazardous wastes over local roads probably would recommend stricter enforcement of existing laws rather than new laws.

- The deadline for meeting air pollution standards in Southern California probably will be extended, but tougher controls on polluters will be demanded in return.

As McConnell worked his way down the list, tossing out the initials of federal agencies like a farmer scattering chicken feed, a few of his listeners gazed out the window, watching the builders of a parking garage across the street scamper from beam to beam.

The committee meetings are livelier when the Legislature is in session. County officials want updates on legislation they are backing, and the county's lobbyist in Sacramento, Dennis Carpenter, gives earthy rundowns on who is doing what to whom at whose expense. Sometimes, Carpenter and McConnell play off each other like a couple of comedians.

When McConnell wound up his most recent briefing, there were no questions. Stanton made the legally mandated announcement that members of the public could address the committee for three to five minutes. There was no one there to take advantage of the offer.

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