President Barack Obama’s State of the Union speech Tuesday sounded out some core Democratic Party principles, but it also included some emotional appeals for bipartisan solutions to nagging problems such as debt reduction and gun violence.
Locally, the speech resonated well with three people contacted by the TimesDaily for their reactions, especially on the topic of education.
“I like what he said about pre-kindergarten,” said Tim Morgan, superintendent of Sheffield City schools. Obama called for universal pre-kindergarten to give disadvantaged students a better opportunity to succeed academically.
“I’m a believer in that,” Morgan said. “If students come in behind, it’s hard for them to catch up.”
Morgan said only about a third of children are enrolled in pre-kindergarten, mainly because there is not enough money to provide more classes.
Morgan also is worried about what will happen if Congress does not reach a compromise to prevent the sequester — a massive, automatic spending cut — from taking effect March 1. He said in Alabama, and by default, education spending will drop dramatically.
“We would lose $97,000 in Sheffield. That’s two teacher units,” he said. “We use federal money to keep class sizes smaller.
“I don’t know why Congress can’t get together and do what is best for our country. Hurting education would not be the right step,” Morgan said.
Jerry Gross, a member of the Russellville Board of Education, also liked the president’s call for universal pre-kindergarten, but added he understands the challenge of paying for its expansion.
“It’s going to be difficult for him to get across party lines the way his speech was laid out,” he said. “He did not give a lot of specifics about how to cut the deficit while accomplishing what he wants to do. He said he wants another tax increase on the richest people, and that’s going to be hard to do.”
On the gun violence issue, Gross said the best hope for bipartisan support will be on universal background checks for firearms purchases.
“But I think ending the war in Afghanistan is a positive for both parties,” he said. “It’s been 10 years of war.”
John Harris, a Florence attorney and chairman of the Lauderdale County Democratic Executive Committee, said he was impressed with the way Obama structured the annual speech.
“It ended with a lot of emotion. It reminded me of State of the Union speeches by Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan,” he said. “I think that is a way to reach people the way they did.”
Harris said he was pleased to hear the president address the “manufactured crises” that have paralyzed Congress for years.
“I just hope the people of Alabama were willing to listen, because I think too many people reject out of hand anything he says without really giving it any thought,” he said.
Robert Palmer can be reached at 256-740-5720 or robert.palmer@TimesDaily.com.