Last week was an eventful one for St. Charles Parish Sheriff Greg Champagne — to say the least.
As president of the National Sheriffs’ Association (NSA), Champagne went to Washington, D.C., to meet with President Donald Trump, visit the White House — including an impromptu tour of the Oval Office — and even make his debut as a speaker on national television.
“It was very exciting,” Champagne said.
Trump met with Champagne and other representatives of the NSA to discuss matters of national security, including Trump’s recent efforts to shut down illegal immigration. Trump also voiced his support for the law enforcement community.
Champagne, who took the mantle of NSA president last summer, noted the NSA was in Washington for its annual winter conference and Trump requested a meeting.
“He wanted to hear from the sheriffs,” Champagne said. “We didn’t ask for the meeting at the White House, his people called us. I thought that was very special and encouraging, that he wanted to meet the sheriffs.”
It wasn’t Champagne’s first trip to the White House. He had made one trip there during George W. Bush’s administration, then three times during Barack Obama’s administration. This visit was a bit different, he noted.
“The first time was more of a social, commemorative event. We were invited three times to meet with Vice President (Joe) Biden,” Champagne said. “I’d never met President Obama, so this was a different situation to be invited here by the president.”
Trump met with nine NSA representatives last Tuesday and allowed each to speak on different issues. Champagne, who was seated next to Trump, actually had to call upon his improvisational skills on the fly.
“I was supposed to start us off and we go around the table … he started on the other side with one of our female board members from Pennsylvania,” Champagne said. “I had my spiel all planned, and we’re going around the table and everyone is kind of covering all the points and I’m thinking, ‘oh my goodness.’ I kind of finished up, offered support and spoke about our homeland security. We were able to present all of our issues and concerns around the table. To be seated right next to him was really pretty exciting.”
During the meeting, as Trump addressed the sheriffs representatives and the press, he offered a bit of special praise to Champagne as the two shook hands.
“He told me, ‘Sheriff, your reputation is fantastic.’ And I’m blown away,” Champagne said.
After that meeting, Champagne said Trump offered the sheriffs the chance to visit the Oval Office.
“I’d never been in the Oval Office,” Champagne said. “We had no idea until he sat down and told the press, ‘I want these guys in the Oval Office.’ And in my mind, it’s just, oh wow, this is big.’”
While there, Champagne and the other NSA members presented Trump with a sculpture called “The American Sheriff” which is historically given in recognition to those who accomplish great things in law enforcement.
Later, Champagne spoke on Fox News Channel with anchor Neil Cavuto about issues such as immigration, the border wall and sanctuary cities.
While he had garnered some experience speaking on behalf of the NSA with major news publications (like Newsweek and the Washington Post), on the radio and at public events, this was Champagne’s first time speaking on national television.
“I felt like a Triple A pitcher brought up to the majors,” Champagne said with a chuckle. “I know how they feel now. I was nervous and apprehensive, but they tell me I did well.”
Champagne said Trump has “a lot more charisma in person than he does on television,” and had a way of setting everyone at ease. He said Trump was personable, friendly and showed a true appreciation for law enforcement.
He also said that while Trump has had an eventful and pressure-packed first few weeks of office, he said he showed “no signs of stress or pressure” during their stay.
“I think he loves the country and wants to keep the country safe,” Champagne said. “Obviously, he’s been a controversial president, especially because he wasn’t expected to win. But from the standpoint of law enforcement, we couldn’t be happier. What does it take to make the country safe, allowing us to do our job, that’s what my interests are.”
Champagne added there was a strained relationship between the NSA and the Obama administration, but he is very optimistic better days are ahead.
“(Having) a stop to all the anti-police rhetoric last few years … we saw one of the highest increases in officer assassinations last year, as far as the killing of police officers. I think a lot of it has been result of the hostile rhetoric we’ve heard in the wake of Baltimore (and) Ferguson. When something happens, and a policeman gets involved in a shooting, then just ask for calm and let the facts play out. You can’t prejudge anything.”