Fresno State official looks for support on Capitol Hill


McClatchy Washington Bureau

Fresno State President Joseph I. Castro has a lot to teach lawmakers – and, perhaps, vice versa.

This week, Castro ventured into the political realm with a round of meetings and Capitol Hill receptions. Though the veteran university administrator has come to Congress before, this week’s venture marked his first since becoming Fresno State’s president in August.

“I wasn’t coming here asking for any money,” Castro said Wednesday night. “My job was mainly to educate. I want to raise awareness of our academic programs, and raise our academic profile.”

In one-on-one sessions with a handful of House members, Castro met the lawmakers he might eventually need to carry Fresno State’s water. In a meeting with a key Agriculture Department official, he talked up his school’s research potential. At a luncheon with California’s House Democrats inside the Capitol, he spoke briefly and tackled an easy question about the school’s football team.

“There are really two purposes to my being there,” Castro said. “The first is to introduce myself, and the other is to raise awareness of the great things we are doing.”

Underscoring the generational shift in university leadership, the 46-year-old Hanford native also kept up a steady stream of exclamation-pointed Twitter comments throughout his several-day trip. His predecessor as Fresno State president, John Welty, visited Washington many times without taking up the Twitter habit.

It’s still the personal touch, though, that people expect. On Tuesday night, building brand loyalty, Castro joined a number of Fresno State alumni at a reception held at the California-appropriate Sonoma Restaurant and Wine Bar, several blocks from the Capitol.

“You get to know a lot of people that know D.C.,” said Jill Wyman, a 2001 Fresno State graduate and former congressional staffer who now works for the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America.

On Wednesday night, Castro joined lawmakers, staffers and dozens of high-level California college and university officials in an annual Back to School Night held in a House of Representatives’ office building cafeteria. School spirits prevailed, lubricated by glasses of Robert Mondavi wine. Fresno State alumni like Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., sported red Bulldog lapel pins. At the University of California at Merced booth, blue U.C. Merced flying discs were free for the taking.

Sponsored by the California State Society, the evening was light-hearted and serious at the same time. School pennants, give-away pencils and colorful pom-poms lent a festive air to the gathering in the Rayburn House Office Building. Beneath the chit-chat and hearty greetings, though, burbled the bottom-line work of building political relationships.

“It helps tell the California higher education story,” said Timothy P. White, a Fresno State graduate who now serves as chancellor of the 437,000-student California State University system.

Paul Sweet, a Sacramento Valley native who formerly directed the University of California’s D.C. government affairs operations, further clarified the higher-education stakes, noting Wednesday that “almost everything going through Congress affects the university, one way or another.”

Federal research funding matters more to the University of California system than to the California State University system. But both rely on federal student aid programs that include the Pell Grants provided to low-income undergraduate students. More than 9,200 Fresno State students received Pell Grants in the fall of 2010, accounting for 52 percent of the university’s undergraduates.

By comparison, 36 percent of all undergraduates at four-year colleges nationwide received Pell Grants.

“Our number one priority is Pell Grants,” said Fresno State Vice President Peter Smits, a veteran of many prior Capitol Hill lobbying trips.

University officials further amplify their messages through an in-house lobbying team. Last year, congressional records show, the California State University system reported spending $680,000 on federal lobbying, while the University of California reported spending $640,000.

By Thursday, Castro was back in California, tweeting to one of the Southern California congressmen he had met earlier in the week.

“Great to see you yesterday at (California) Delegation lunch!” Castro wrote. “Please let me know when you next visit the Central Valley.”

Email:; Twitter: @MichaelDoyle10

Read more Politics Wires stories from the Miami Herald

This undated photo obtained from the Department of Homeland Security shows former Acting Inspector General Charles Edwards. A Senate subcommittee says Edwards was too cozy with the political appointees of President Barack Obama whose activities he was supposed to oversee. A 27-page report from a Senate homeland security subcommittee says Charles Edwards improperly rewrote, delayed or classified reports to accommodate the department. It says he also asked for guidance from senior Homeland Security Department officials instead of his own staff.

    Ex-DHS watchdog put on leave after critical report

    Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson put his agency's former internal watchdog on leave within hours of the publication of a Senate report that concluded the employee was too cozy with senior agency officials and delayed or classified some critical reports to accommodate President Barack Obama's political appointees.

FILE - This July 18, 2008 file photo shows the calories of each food item at a McDonalds drive-thru menu in New York. Diners could soon see calorie counts on menus of chain restaurants. But what about the roasted chicken sold at grocery stores, or the hot dogs convenience stores sell? Will movie theaters have to tell patrons the number of calories in a giant soda and bucket of popcorn? The food industry is closely watching the Food and Drug Administration to see which establishments are included in the final menu labeling rules, expected this year.

    Where will calorie labels appear? Not just menus

    Diners could soon see calorie counts on the menus of chain restaurants.

FILE - Col. Elspeth Ritchie, a doctor in the Office of the Army Surgeon General, discusses efforts to study and understand suicide among American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan, in this May 29, 2008 file photo, during a news conference at the Pentagon. The Pentagon plans to release a report Friday April 25, 2014on military suicides. But those numbers differ a bit from the totals provided by the services because of complicated accounting changes in how the department counts suicides by reservists.

    Number of military suicides dropped last year

    Suicides across the military dropped by more than 15 percent last year, but new detailed data reveals an increase in the number of Army National Guard and Reserve soldiers who took their own lives.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category