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 of murder and was 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.