State of the Union Address prompts Tampa Bay watch parties

02/13/13 Lenka Davis and Christopher Davis
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Last night, President Barack Obama delivered the first State of the Union Address of his second term. WMNF’s Lenka Davis reports from two watch parties in Tampa, one organized by the Hillsborough County Young Democrats and the other one by Tampa Bay Young Republicans.

At Mangroves bar in South Tampa, just minutes before the president’s speech was televised, a member of the Hillsborough County Young Democrats, Tim Heberlein, highlighted three important issues he wanted to hear.

"The first I think, on my list, is comprehensive immigration reform which the President has taken a stand to make sure that's one of the priorities coming into this, starting a second term. Obviously gun control and gun safety is really an important issue to the nation, not just the President's adminisration but the naiton, right now. We need to have some type of process to insure the safety of not just our schools but public spaces. Climate change, there's a lot of countries out pacing us not only in providing renewable energy but also the industry of renewable energy and those technologies that are providing great American jobs."

President Obama began his speech with a focus on the economy. He said reducing the deficit does not have to involve spending cuts on education or healthcare, but rather eliminating the loopholes in the tax codes utilized by the wealthiest Americans. Next, the president acknowledged climate action as a moral duty. He appealed to combating carbon dioxide emissions and urged congress to pass comprehensive legislation to free the US from fossil fuel dependency by using alternative energy.

"The twelve hottest years on record have all come in the last 50. Heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, floods, all are now more frequent and more intense. We can choose to believe that super storm Sandy and the most severe drought in decades and the worst wildfires some states have ever seen were all just a freak coincidence or we can choose to believe in the overwhelming judgement of science and act before it's too late."

President Obama also called for free preschool education for every child in the US, as well as university education that doesn’t burden the college graduates with crippling student loan debt. He also challenged Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform.

"Real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship. A path that includes passing a backround check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty. Learning English and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally. And real reform means fixing the legal immigration system, to cut waiting periods and to attract the highly skilled entrepreneurs and engineers that will help create jobs and grow our economy."

The president proposed raising the minimum wage in the US to 9 dollars per hour and reaffirmed the plan to end the war in Afghanistan by the end of next year. And he announced a nonpartisan commission to achieve voting reform.

Dozens of family members and victims of gun violence attended the speech, including the parents of Hadiya Pendelton who was shot to death near the president´s Chicago home days after she performed at the presidential inauguration.

"Overwhelming majorities of Americans, Americans who believe in the Second Amendment, have come together around common sense reform. Like backround checks that will make it harder for criminals to get their hands on a gun. Senators of both parties are working together on tough new laws to prevent anyone from buying guns for resale to criminals."

Obama said each one of these proposals deserves a vote in Congress. After the presidential address, Laura Colado, the liaison officer for Hillsborough County Young Democrats, said she was impressed.

"I like that he touched on education and I like that he talked about getting out of the war in Afghanistan. There really wasn't anything mentioned or anything not mentioned that I was expecting. I was hoping that he would speak about gun control, which he did. I was hoping that he would speak about the Violence Against Women's Act, which he did. So, I was not disappointed at all."

Several blocks away, at Pachyderm Wing Company, Joe Wicker of the Tampa Bay Young Republicans thought that the president made an emotional appeal to the American people for complex problems and did not offer sufficient solutions.

"The theme throughout the speech was more government and more goverment instituted solutions and I think what we, as Americans, understand is that we didn't create this country so we can have a government to solve our problems, we created this country so we could get out from under big government."

Jonathan Torres, the group’s president, criticized President Obama for the lack of substance on the economy, and thinks Marco Rubio´s response to the presidential speech was more appropriate.

"For the length of time that he spoke I think he was able to respond to a lot of the things that the President addressed. I felt that he strongly represented the Republican values and what we're trying to achieve. And the simple ideal that government isn't the answer to everything."

Senator Rubio gave the official GOP response.

"His solution for every problem we face is for Washington to tax more, borrow more, and spend more. This idea that our problems were caused by a government that was too small, it's just not true. In fact the major cause of our recent downturn was a housing crisis created by reckless government policies. And the idea that more taxes and more government spending is the best way to help hard working middle class taxpayers, that's an old idea that's failed everytime it's been tried. More government isn't going to help you get ahead. It's going to hold you back."

But back at the Democratic watch party, Michael Long, the group´s vice president said Rubio´s speech was below his expectations.

"I felt it to be very formulaic, very much of what we've heard before. I felt it was just a repeat of the same failed policies that Mitt Romney suggested during the presidential campaign and America didn't buy it then and they're not going to buy it now. The GOP wants to regain relevance as a party they need to come up with new ideas and not the same old ones that help the rich at the expense of everyone else."

The responses by the Republican members of congress indicated they may not go along with president´s proposals, which they describe as just more taxing, borrowing and spending.

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