Wednesday is the third and final day of meetings in Washington for more than 150 business and political leaders from Los Angeles. Sequestration overshadowed this year’s agenda for Access LA — the annual D.C. lobbying trip sponsored by the L.A. Chamber of Commerce.
The group had meetings with White House staffers, cabinet secretaries, both of California’s U.S. Senators, and several members of Congress to talk about everything from immigration to modernizing LAX.
Denita Willoughby of the Southern California Gas Company has made several Access LA trips to D.C. She's part of the Chamber’s education team, talking to members of Congress about teacher grants, after-school programs, and funding for students with disabilities.
Willoughby describes the meetings as "frustrating because we’ve been talking about these issues for more than a few years now and there’s been little progress made." But she sees some movement, with members identifying parts of bills where there is some agreement. "We will eventually get there," she says. "I don’t know if it’s necessarily this year on some of these items, but I don’t think you give up."
This is the first Access LA trip for Zanku Armenian from Southern California Edison, but he has more Washington experience than most: he worked at one time for then-Senator Joe Biden. Armenian is on the energy and environment team, but he says Congress isn’t talking about greenhouse gas these days.
"Right now," Armenian says, "everything seems to be around the sequester — as it probably should be. Until we resolve that, we can’t move on to the other important matters that are going on."
Both Willoughby and Armenian say they experienced the effects of sequestration up close: standing in long lines in the rain, waiting to get past security at Congressional office buildings.
Armenian called the trip "productive," saying it makes for a different kind of connection. "I think it’s always important for the representatives to hear from their constituents in Washington," he said, "not just when they come back to the district offices."
Armenian said they met more Democrats than Republicans, but only because there are so few GOP members of Congress from California.
This year’s Access LA group included Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, LAUSD school superintendent John Deasy, five city councilmen, and more than a hundred local business leaders.