Ever since President Reagan’s 1982 State of the Union, part of the story of presidential addresses to Congress has been who gets invited to sit with the first lady in the gallery.
Reagan’s A-list guest was Lenny Skutnik, who two weeks earlier was among the heroes who helped pull people from the icy waters of the Potomac River after an Air Florida jet crashed shortly following takeoff from National Airport (now known as Reagan National Airport).
Since then, presidents have invited both heroes and individuals who help illustrate points the presidents wish to make. So when guest lists are released, it’s instructive to take a look. They can offer clues to what’s coming.
The White House just put out the list for President Obama’s jobs-focused address this evening. Those who will be in the gallery with first lady Michelle Obama include:
— Jeffrey Immelt, CEO of General Electric. He’s chairman of the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness. So look for Obama to again stress the importance of technology, research and development.
— Steve Case, who co-founded America Online and is, the White House says, “one of America’s most accomplished entrepreneurs and philanthropists.” He fills the “American can-do/entrepreneurial spirit” slot.
— Darline Miller, CEO of Permac Industries, a Minnesota company that makes “precision parts for customers worldwide.” The president talks a lot about the importance of exports.
— Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. Labor’s a big part of Obama’s base, and the president talks a lot about the need to create more jobs in industries that produce things, not just services.
— Albert Green, CEO of Kent Displays. The Ohio company has developed “No Power LCDs” for eReaders, eWriters, electronic skins and eCard displays. The president often points to the job-creating potential of America’s innovative small businesses.
— Jan Heister, president of Premier Tooling and Mfg. in Peosta, Iowa. She can give the president another small business success story to talk about. Also, she’s a nurse by training who switched careers. He often talks about the need to be flexible.
— Philip Maung, founder of Hissho Sushi in Charlotte, N.C. In 13 years, the White House says, Maung’s company has grown into “a dynamic foodservice and distribution company managing and operating more than 400 sushi bars across the U.S.” Another success story to tout.
— Military veterans Joseph Kidd and John Raferty. Kidd was among a small group of veterans who recently met with the president. He asked Obama “to help with credentialing programs that would allow a service member to take his or her skills from the military directly into the private sector,” the White House says. Raferty is CEO of a “service-disabled, veteran-owned” construction company. The president often speaks of the need to give veterans more help and job training.
— Nicole Gentile, the White House says, is “married with two children, [and] a third grade teacher at Marion-Sterling Elementary in Cleveland, Ohio. She is at risk of being laid off given the district’s budget situation. Thirteen of her colleagues are also at risk of being laid off.”
— Hector Sealey, director of safety, risk management and compliance at a construction company. According to the White House, Sealey “along with almost a million workers, is at risk of losing his job if Congress does not act and the transportation bill expires.”
— Kirk Bergstrom, a project engineer with Denver Transit Partners, which is building a commuter railroad line between the city and Denver International Airport. “Before the Eagle P3 Project,” the White House says, “Kirk was going to have to leave his family and travel back-and-forth to Kansas to work on another construction project. DTP, thanks to this federally funded project, was able to give him a career close to his home.” Obama often talks about the job-creation possibilities of infrastructure projects.
— Marlena Clark of Maryland, who after getting a community college education is now “a full-time systems engineer.” The role community colleges can play in worker training is another favorite topic of the president’s.