Obamas invite Beshears to State of the Union speech

syoungman@herald-leader.comJanuary 28, 2014 

  • Boston bomb survivors among guests at speech

    Two survivors of the Boston Marathon bombing and an openly gay NBA player are among the other guests who will sit with first lady Michelle Obama when President Barack Obama delivers the annual State of the Union address Tuesday night.

    The first lady's guests are often chosen because they symbolize an issue or policy the president is promoting. The White House announced six guests Monday, with other names to be released before the speech.

    The announced guests are:

     Carlos Arredondo and Jeff Bauman, Boston: A photograph of Arredondo, 53, and Bauman, 27, has become one of the iconic images from the April bombing in Boston. The photo captured Arredondo rushing a badly injured Bauman away from the scene of the attack. Bauman, who lost both legs in the attack, played a crucial role in identifying the bombers while he was in the hospital recovering.

     Gary Bird, Moore, Okla.: Bird is the fire chief in Moore, Okla., which was hit by a massive tornado in May. The tornado killed 25 people and destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses. The White House said Bird and his team worked through the path of the storm to rescue survivors.

     Jason Collins, Los Angeles: In April, Collins, 35, became the first active male athlete on a major American sports team to come out as openly gay. Collins played 12 years in the NBA, going to the playoffs nine times and making the league finals twice. The president has said Collins' announcement marked a point of progress for the gay community.

     Joey Hudy, Anthem, Ariz.: Hudy was a participant in a 2012 science fair at the White House, where he helped the president use his invention, the "extreme marshmallow cannon." Now 16, Hudy is interning at Intel and is a proponent of science, technology, engineering and math education.

     Kathy Hollowell-Makle, Washington: Hollowell-Makle was the 2013 teacher of the year in the District of Columbia public school system. A former Teach for America corps member, Hollowell-Makle works at Abram Simon Elementary, where 90 percent of her students demonstrated early literacy at proficient or advanced levels.

    Associated Press

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear and his wife, Jane, will sit with first lady Michelle Obama on Tuesday night as President Barack Obama addresses a joint session of Congress and the nation in his State of the Union speech.

Beshear told the Herald-Leader on Monday that he and his wife were "honored" to receive the invitation in a call last week from Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett.

Obama repeatedly has hailed Beshear's work in implementing Kentucky's health-care exchange as part of the federal Affordable Care Act, and if tradition holds, he probably will do so again during the televised address. (The speech is set to start at 9 p.m. and will air on major broadcast and cable networks.)

"I appreciate his hard work in getting the Affordable Care Act passed to give me the opportunity to change the course of Kentucky's history when it comes to health care," Beshear said of Obama.

Beshear noted that more than 182,000 Kentuckians have signed up for health coverage using the exchange since it went live Oct. 1. About three-fourths of those have enrolled in the state's expanded Medicaid coverage, with the remainder enrolling in private insurance plans.

In the early days of the exchange, about 1,000 people a day were signing up for health coverage, a pace that Beshear said he and his staff thought would decline over time.

"Now they're signing up at 1,500 a day," the governor said. "It's just a demonstration of the enormous pent-up demand."

As the only Southern governor who opted to set up a state exchange instead of relying on a federally-run exchange, Beshear has been an unlikely star of Obama's health-care law, making the national media rounds to hail its success even as the federal program got off to a disastrous start.

Problems with the federal program's website led to a low point in Obama's tenure, but he often pointed to Beshear and Kentucky as examples of the law's successes as he traveled the country last year defending the program.

"Look at Kentucky," Obama told a Boston audience in October. "Gov. Steve Beshear, who's a Democrat, he is like a man possessed with helping more people get coverage. He thinks it's the right thing to do. Keep in mind I did not win in Kentucky. But there are a lot of uninsured people in Kentucky, and they're signing up."

Mitt Romney, Obama's Republican opponent in 2012, won the Bluegrass State with about 61 percent of the vote.

The Beshears are planning to fly to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday morning.

Sam Youngman: (502) 875-3793. Twitter: @samyoungman. Blog: bluegrasspolitics.bloginky.com.

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