The State of the Union address

Area residents and local officials watched with mixed reactions as President Barack Obama delivered his State of the Union Address in front of a joint session of Congress Tuesday night.

For the second year in a row, the president’s plan for adding jobs and improving the economy was the main focus of those watching. Some felt he hit the mark, while others thought his speech lacked specific plans.

“The overriding situation with me during the whole thing is the debt that our country is in. He never said anything about the $16 trillion debt and what we’re going to do. He never got specific about what spending cuts we could take,” said Bob Rauch, 58, of Waterford.

Rauch, a Republican, thought the President’s speech showed a disconnect between goals and how to achieve them.

“He talked about corporations coming back to the company and then in the next sentence he talked about raising taxes on corporation and closing loopholes and raising the minimum wage,” said Rauch. “These are the things that moved these companies out of the country in the first place.”

Others were more encouraged by plans for economic progress.

“A couple of things he mentioned, such as the minimum wage at nine dollars an hour, it has some merit,” said David Brightbill, executive director of Washington-Morgan Community Action, which provides services such as weatherization, energy assistance, and job training to residents in need.

Creating jobs that pay a living wage would be a huge step in the right direction, he said.

The president also pointed to domestic oil and gas production as one outlet for stimulated economic growth.

“The natural gas boom has led to cleaner power and greater energy independence. That’s why my administration will keep cutting red tape and speeding up new oil and gas permits,” said Obama.

That issue is one that Ohio Sen. Lou Gentile, D-Steubenville, was glad the President addressed.

“I was encouraged by the president’s remarks about continuing to peruse strategies for energy independence and continue to make available domestic oil and gas,” said Gentile. “That allows for local economic job growth here in Ohio.”

Gentile was also pleased about the president’s plan for establishing a manufacturing policy that would encourage American production.

Obama called for “a tax code that lowers incentives to move jobs overseas, and lowers tax rates for businesses and manufacturers that create jobs right here in America.”

However, Ohio Rep. Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, said he would like to see action that proves the President’s commitment to oil and gas exploration.

“I haven’t seen real action to encourage that. I’ve seen the opposite -unwillingness to lease,” said Thompson.

Obama touched on the issue of gun reform, pointing to many people in attendance who had been affected by gun violence.

Ernie Hoschar, a member of the Fort Harmar Rifle Club, thought the display attempted to play on the emotions of the crowd without truly giving information about his plans.

Though Obama did not specifically outline his plans, he has previously talked of plans to renew a ban on assault style weapons, to lower legal magazine capacities, and to mandate universal background checks.

“I think when it does come to Congress, I feel pretty certain he won’t get the assault weapon ban reinstated,” said Hoschar.

Marietta resident Jon Grimm, a Republican, agreed that the majority of the people in the country want the Second Amendment upheld.

“I think the Democrats are trying to use that issue as a deterrent from some of the real problems in America,” said Grimm.

The number one problem right now is the economy, said Grimm.

While it was no surprise that the president focused much of his address on the economy, there was some surprise that he did not spend more time getting specific about his plans for gun control.

“I thought he would address the gun control issue harder. But I think he recognizes early on that this is going to be a loser for him. The people of this nation are not going to give up their Second Amendment rights easily or quietly,” said Leslie Haas, chairman of the Washington County Republican Party.

Haas was hoping Obama would give more focus on specific plans for growing the economy. Instead, he focused on expanding programs that will cost the country more money, she said.

“I sense very strongly he’s going to roll out another stimulus package. He talks about not wanting to add to our national debt. Where does he think this money is going to come from?” asked Haas.

Warren Bigley, 28, of Parkersburg, agreed.

“We’re still talking about more spending, more taxes, more debt and no real plan to cut spending,” said Bigley, a Republican.

A real plan could better be achieved if Obama make a more concentrated effort to reach across the aisle, said Rep. Thompson.

“There’s always a villain in his speeches, whether it is my party, or big businesses, or the rich. When you’re the president, you’re the president of all of us. There is no villain,” said Thompson.

Obama could benefit by stealing an idea or two from the Republican Party and working to reach bipartisan resolutions to the debt crisis, he said.

One of the proposed programs Obama spoke of Tuesday would provide greater access to preschool programs across the country.

Although Ohio Rep. Debbie Phillips, D-Athens, was not going to be able to watch the speech live, she was hopeful the address would touch on the importance of education.

“I have some interest in what he is proposing for early childhood education. If there are plans to increase the investment in early childhood education, that will create great opportunities for our community,” said Phillips.

Obama proposed “working with states to make high-quality preschool available to every child in America.”

Washington County Democratic Party chairperson Molly Varner was encouraged by the president’s plan for education.

“I love the idea that we have to have people ready from the beginning -to get them used to the idea that learning is a lifelong process,” said Varner.

The plan to improve individual education and improve workforce skills was just one of the solid ideas Obama had that will help the country continue on the path toward economic recovery, said Varner.

But it was the issue of voter reform particularly resonated with Varner, who has volunteered as a poll worker in the past.

“You have the story of the 102-year-old lady who waited in line for hours and hours to vote. That just is not right,” she said.

Obama announced the creation of a non-partisan commission to improve the voting experience in America.

Obama also reiterated plans to withdraw the remaining American troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014.

Varner was glad to hear the plan, and said the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have directly contributed to the deficit problem.

“I’m just so pleased to know we’ll no longer be bleeding American blood and American money into these wars.” she said.

The president also touched on immigration reform, and while it was not her number one concern, Haas was pleased to somewhat agree with the President on that point.

“I think several of the reforms he mentioned were in the right direction. The time has come to address that issue,” said Haas.

Congressman Bill Johnson, R-Marietta, reacted shortly after the speech: “What we heard tonight was a total lack of willingness by President Obama to work with Congress on common sense solutions that would address America’s challenges,” he said in a statement. “President Obama blamed Congress for his failure to lead, and threatened to side step Congress all together to get what he wants.”