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DALLAS MORNING NEWS: Here are a few notable Texans invited to Obama’s last State of the Union
Published: January 12, 2016 8:00 am
Update 4:10 p.m.: this post has been updated with guest comments throughout
WASHINGTON– A few notable Texans will be scattered among the political elite at President Barack Obama’s final State of the Union Address Tuesday.
The White House is painting the speech as non-traditional and optimistic. Many guests are picked strategically to highlight political issues or spotlight local leaders.
Plano Republican Rep. Sam Johnson has invited Michael Morton, who was wrongfully convicted and exonerated in 2011 after 25 years in prison. Johnson’s pick is aimed at raising awareness of wrongful convictions, and recently-passed legislation Johnson authored allowing exonerees tax exemptions.
“This (legislation) helps us, let’s pray to God it doesn’t help you,” Morton said, joined by fellow exoneree James Tillman who served 18 years before after a wrongful conviction. He is attending the address with Rep. John Larson, D-CT, “It is a historic day for many reasons. This is is the first time exonerees attend a function like this. Hopefully, you will learn from us.”
Fort Worth Democrat Rep. Marc Veasey is taking Gloria Fuentes, owner of the Dallas-based restaurant franchise Gloria’s Latin Cuisine, with 15 locations across the state. Veasey said Fuentes embodies why small business owners should be supported by legislation he’s backed that would make it easier to obtain loans.
“The message we want people to hear is that if you work hard and you put your heart and passion into what you do we can all go really far, because this country is full of opportunities and it is just a matter of focusing on what you want to accomplish and you’ll see the results,” Fuentes said in Spanish. Fuentes was granted amnesty under President Ronald Reagan and said she hopes the president discusses immigration reform to similarly help hard working people in the country illegally.
The White House has invited guests that “personify” Obama’s administration,including four Texans.
“I’m excited to hear what his thoughts are on immigration, STEM education and especially about those kids that protected under DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals),“ said Oscar Vazquez, a DREAMer and veteran who speaks nationally to students about pursuing a STEM education. Vazquez’s interest in robotics led to a mechanical engineering degree from Arizona State University. He later earned legal status in the U.S., became a citizen and enlisted in the Army.
This will be Vazquez’s fourth invitation from the White House for various events.
Vazquez will be joined by Austin Community College student Jennifer Bragdon, Austin veteran Earl Smith, and Houston engineer Lisa Jaster, who was the first female Army Reserve officer to graduate from the Ranger School.
Two other congressmen will also spotlight education with their guests. Laredo Democrat Rep. Henry Cuellar invited fifth-grader Anthony Garcia, 11, who attends the school named after the representative, the Dr. Henry Cuellar Elementary School. to highlight education as “the great equalizer.” Garcia won the visit through an essay competition.
Republican Rep. Pete Olson of Sugar Land invited Charlotte Liptack, the principal of Manvel High School. Liptack helped her school cope with the death of three students after her own personal tragedy, her husband and nine-year-old son were killed in a 2014 plane crash, a lost shared with Olson. Olson’s wife was killed in a car accident.
“I was Charlotte to come up and show the world how people can persevere through bad time,” Olson told KTRK news. Liptack hopes to be a voice for scaling back standardized testing.
House Speaker Paul Ryan invited two anti-gang activists from Dallas, Omar Jahwar and Antong Lucky.
Jahwar is a pastor and former inmate, who created Vision Regeneration an initiative to curb gang activity and provide mentoring and counseling services in 17 Dallas public schools.
Lucky, a former leader of the Bloods gang, works with Jahwar and also runs a recording studio, We Make Real Music, Inc., fighting violent messages in music.
Jahwar said he hopes attending the speech underscores that “poverty and urban violence is solvable.”
Republican Rep. Randy Weber of Pearland will bring Alice Tripp, the Texas State Rifle Association legislative director, to emphasize Weber’s Second Amendment support, and jab at Obama recent executive order on gun accessibility.
Democrat Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Dallas will host two Democratic Texas lawmakers state Sen. Rodney Ellis and state Rep. Helen Giddings.
“It’s a very exciting evening for me,” Giddings said. “With all of his accomplishments, the president has a lot to blow his horn about.”