Elkhart County and the President

The Elkhart Truth has an interesting piece on the reception of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address with special attention to ABC News’ coverage of folks watching the speech from Goshen.

GOSHEN — Elkhart County played a part in President Barack Obama’s first State of the Union address, and it played an even bigger part in one major network’s coverage of the speech.

Just a few minutes into his nationally televised remarks Wednesday, Obama mentioned Elkhart, along with Galesburg, Ill., as examples of places in America he’s visited that are hurting economically.

The reference brought smiles to the faces of some of the county residents ABC News had assembled at a Keystone RV Co. facility here. The network gathered more than 15 people — many of them unemployed — at the U.S. 33 building to watch the speech, then offer their reaction live on TV afterwards.

“They let us know it’s a lot of set-up for maybe one or two minutes,” said Bob Martin, who recently took over as Keystone president. “It is what it is. It’s been very good.”

The company was contacted by ABC Tuesday, he said. The network was first in touch with the Greater Elkhart Chamber of Commerce, searching for a site to host the event and everyday people to fill the seats.

For a company that has rebounded from uncertainty in early 2009, Martin said opening its doors to the nation really wasn’t a question.

“This time of year a year ago, we didn’t really know what the future was going to be,” he said. “Anything that can show the RV industry in a positive light, we’re glad to be a part of.”

The group of locals was present to offer context to the president’s remarks and the Republican response, and was briefly part of the post-speech coverage. A story on the local reaction will also appear tonight on ABC World News with Diane Sawyer.

“If the president needs to grab anyone’s attention, it’s probably yours,” ABC News correspondent Deborah Roberts told the group before the speech. ” So we just want to know what you’re thinking.”

David French was one of two Keystone employees to attend. He worked for the company for three years, was laid off for nine months, then hired back in May.

Other than looking forward to being on TV for the first time, the electrician and father of three said he was anxious to hear some brightness in Obama’s words.

“I’d like to hear some hope,” he said. “There’s still a lot of people laid off. It’d be nice to see those people get back to work.”

Not long ago, French said he wouldn’t have bothered watching the State of the Union address. Now, he said, the issues being discussed are too important to ignore.

“Up until the last couple years, I probably wouldn’t be,” he said. “But the way things are going, I started paying more attention. There’s a lot of crazy stuff that needs to be fixed.”

Rod Rowe of The Goshen News has the following:

Elkhart County and its status of being a high unemployment area was in the spotlight after President Obama’s speech, as a crew from ABC News interviewed a group of 17 residents after they watched the speech in a Keystone RV factory Wednesday night.

Many people in the local group are unemployed and some have been without jobs for longer than a year.

They gathered in three rows of folding chairs before two large-screen TVs in the cavernous factory to watch the president address Congress . Afterwards ABC correspondent Debra Roberts and local reporters quizzed them about their impressions.

“There is plenty of anxiety,” said Wendell Wiebe-Powell, Elkhart. “But we have our faith and our church.”

He added that he has tough decisions to make, such as buying medicine for his son’s needs or keeping the roof over the family’s heads.

He said he is encouraged about the president’s drive to get health care reform passed, but, “Jobs and the economy are linked to health care. We gave up health care when I lost my job.”

“My wife was denied health care and our health care bills are piling up,” said Wiebe-Powell. Hundreds of thousands of people are going bankrupt because of health care expenses, he said.

Jessica Wileman, Goshen, said the president spoke about helping small businesses and she sees factory jobs being created, but she is an accountant and needs to work in that field.

Gerry Hertzler, Goshen, told Roberts he remains positive in his job search. He pointed out that President Obama called for members of Congress to work together to find solutions in a bi-partisan way.

Hertzler said Elkhart County government is an example of bi-partisan cooperation. He told the ABC News crew that while Elkhart and Goshen have Democrat mayors and city and county councils have Republican majorities, they do what is best for Elkhart County.

“I’m sure Elkhart County will rebound,” Hertzler said. “Optimism is a coping mechanism for the unemployed. You have to be. I will get another job.”

Moses Huerta, Goshen, has been off work from his RV job for two years. He said he was encouraged by what Obama said in his speech, but Huerta wants to see action.

“Everything sounds good, but I want to see some action. I have a little more hope,” Huerta said.

Susan Christophel, Goshen, said she was impressed with the speech but said she is in the group of unemployed that does not receive benefits. She said she is a single mother and she wants to work to care for her family.

Friend of ALO and Communications Director for SEIU’s Indiana Change that Works Reesa Kosoff went to Elkhart to watch the President’s address with working folks from the area and reports back the following:

Elkhart Indiana – A mid-size RV town that’s gotten its fair share of media attention in the last year.  And now, a town with the honor of a State of the Union shout out.I had the privilege of attending an SOTU watch party in Elkhart last night sponsored by Indiana Change That Works.  I travel to Elkhart on a fairly regular basis, and with an unemployment rate that hovers around 15 percent, this is certainly a town that could use some uplifting remarks.

The audience was electrified when the President mentioned Elkhart, not just because their hometown got a shout out, but because the President said exactly what this town needed to hear.

These are folks that need a jolt to their economy, new jobs, and a renewed spirit.  Most tellingly, the audience went wild when the President laid down the hatchet on partisan gridlock.  Folks without jobs don’t want a news cycle dominated by opponents of progress using the filibuster – they want to see action.

Let’s hope that next year, Elkhart is mentioned in the SOTU because of its robust economic recovery.  There is a way forward, now let’s get these people back to work!

Radio personality and former state representative Dave Crooks, who will kindly be hosting A Loyal Opposition and Masson Blog’s A Citizen’s Guide to Indiana on his February 6th Dave Crooks Show, posted the following on his blog shortly after the presidents speech:

I must admit, I thought President Obama hit one out of the park Wednesday night during the State of the Union address. We all know he can give a great speech, but what impressed me most was the substance of his addrress. He made it simple for the common man to understand. He admitted making mistakes in his first year in office. He took a shot at the Supreme Court for their campaign finance ruling last week which in my view was well deserved. He touched on numerous issues that affect every American. He also made it clear he can’t do it alone. I’m glad he hasn’t given up on health care reform. I was pleased much of his speech focused on jobs and finding ways to cut costs from our federal budget. We all know everybody is cutting budgets. You can’t tell me the Federal Government can’t do the same. To achieve anything positive during this election year, I believe he will need to reach out more to the minority party. But, if the GOP continues to say no to everything the President proposes, I think the GOP’s hope of an “Obama Waterloo” may backfire. People are impatient. They want action. Most people could care less which side gets credit. I’m starting to believe if nothing is passed this year on health care and finding ways to jump start the economy, it won’t be only the party in power that gets punished come November. It will likely be those who are incumbents from both political parties.

and radio personalliIt is gratifying for the president to recognize the difficulties facing working folks all across the country and to use Elkhart as a microcosmic example of those struggles.

It remains to be seen if the Republicans are interested in helping carry the load with the president to help folks, or if they are willing to sacrifice people like the folks of Elkhart and Goshen to embarrass our president and win some political points.


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