- Jessica Wehrman Washington Bureau
Their presence is a tradition dating back to the Reagan era: Tucked next to the lady of the United States at the State of the Union Address each year are a handful of people hand–picked by the administration to represent the nation and the issues it faces.
This year, three of those picks are from the Dayton region.
Steve Staub and Sandy Keplinger, president and vice president of Staub Manufacturing Solutions in Dayton, were tapped to sit near First Lady Melania Trump Tuesday as she watches her husband give his first formal State of the Union address as president (Trump gave an address to Congress mere days after his inauguration last year).
“It’s an honor and a privilige to be here,” Staub said Tuesday.
With Staub, of Tipp City, and Keplinger, of Springfield, was one of their employees, Corey Adams, a skilled welder at Staub.
Together, the trio was picked to represent what President Donald Trump considers a key achievement of his first year in office: a comprehensive tax overhaul, which he and other proponents credit for injecting life into the economy.
Staub and Keplinger say they’ve seen the results. Staub said in the last seven months, they’ve increased their employees from 23 to 37. They were able to acquire a new building. And they were able to give employees larger than expected Christmas bonuses.
“Optimism is at an all-time high,” Staub said. “We’re hearing from our customers, from our suppliers, we have customers who have launched new products strictly because of their confidence with tax reform moving forward.”
During the address, Trump said Stuaub has “just finished the best year in their 20-year history.”
“Because of tax reform, they are handing out raises, hiring and additional 14 people and expanding into the building next door,” President Trump said.
Adams, meanwhile, credits the tax bill with giving him the confidence to buy his first home and put away a little more money for his children’s education. He has a two– and 10–year–old. He describes himself as not political, but Adams admitted all the hubbub was a little overwhelming.
“It’s just a lot to take in,” he said Tuesday before the speech. “I’m not used to anything like this.”
He said he hoped his presence at the speech — and his story — “”gives people a little more confidence to move forward in life knowing that everything is looking a little better as far as manufacturing.”
Trump called Adams an “all-American worker.”
“He supported himself through high school, lost his job during the 2008 recession, and was later hired by Staub where he trained to become a welder,” Trump said. “Like many hardworking Americans, Corey plans to invest his tax-cut raise into his new home and his two daughters’ educaiton.”
Trump is not the only lawmaker inviting guests in order to make a statement.
Rep. Warren Davidson, R–Troy, invited Troy Fire Chief Matt Simmons. Simmons has been on the forefront of his city’s response to the opioid epidemic and has been part of a partnership involving first responders, the sheriff, the jail, addiction services and the faith community to respond to the crisis. Those who overdose, he said, receive a follow-up visit from paramedics and police where first responders reach out and offer treatment and resources aimed at helping addicts recover. The faith-based communities, meanwhile, also offer addicts an alternative.
“There’s a perception that everything is going downhill,” he said. “I don’t think that’s the case. I think when the community really gets back to our roots of people helping people, that there is hope.”
Similarly, Sen. Rob Portman, R–Ohio, has invited Jay McDonald, President of the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police and Vice President of the National Fraternal Order of Police as his guest because of (FOP), will accompany him as his guest because of his work fighting the opioid epidemic. Portman and McDonald have also worked closely together to fight online sex trafficking. “Jay is a good friend and a terrific ambassador for law enforcement across the state of Ohio, and I’m pleased that he will be joining me for the State of the Union,” Portman said.
And Rep. Steve Stivers, R–Upper Arlington, is bringing Hocking County Municipal Court Judge Fred Moses., also because of his guest’s work fighting the epidemic.
“Judge Moses runs one of the most successful and innovative drug courts in the state, and has been a strong leader in fighting the opioid epidemic,” Stivers said. “I have been proud to work with him on this issue, and I hope to hear more about the president’s strategy to combat the opioid epidemic on Tuesday.”
Sen. Sherrod Brown, D–Ohio, focused on the pensions issue, inviting Rita Lewis, the widow of truck driver and Teamster Butch Lewis to the speech. Brown named a bill he has introduced aimed at restoring the pensions of those whose pensions are at risk or have been cut after Butch Lewis.
Butch Lewis died in 2015, one year after hearing his pension would be cut in half. He spent the final months of his life worrying not only about his own pension, but about the pension of his friends and fellow Teamsters. The Vietnam veteran was “consumed” with worry. “It killed him,” Rita Lewis said.
She said she hope her presence at the speech is a reminder of those whose pensions must be made whole.
“I hope if they see me, if they look at me, they see the middle class and everything we stand for,” she said, saying her husband and his fellow Teamsters accepted lower wages and benefits during their careers because of the promise of pensions that were ultimately never delivered.
Rep. Joyce Beatty, D-Jefferson Township, will bring Lewis Von Thaer, the president and CEO of Battelle with her. She’s doing so, said a spokesman, to emphasize the importance of research and development.
But Beatty will make another statement tonight as well. She and other women in Congress plan to wear black in solidarity with those who have been sexually harassed. She’ll also wear a pin honoring Recy Taylor, an African-American woman who was raped by six white men in 1944. The men threatened to kill her if she told’ she did anyway. Taylor died in December. Among those who have honored her since her death are Oprah Winfrey, who told her story during a speech at the Golden Globes.