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Meet the State of the Union’s human policy props

Lennie Skutnik the man who jumped into the Potomac River and saved one of the passengers aboard the Air Florida jetliner that crashed there on January 13 receives applause from first lady Nancy Reagan and his wife at night on Tuesday, Jan. 27, 1982 at House chamber of Capitol Hall in Washington.
AP Photo
The first human SOTU prop: Lennie Skutnik, the man, the myth, the mustache.
  • Tim Fernholz
By Tim Fernholz

Senior reporter

United StatesPublished This article is more than 2 years old.

It’s an American tradition to invite human symbols of the president’s policy goals to join his wife in the audience of the State of the Union, ever since heroic government employee Lenny Skutnik attended Ronald Reagan’s address in 1982. While this year will see an assemblage of veterans, survivors of national tragedy and important politicos joining Michelle Obama to be honored, we’ll focus on the people meant to convey the administration’s economic approach:

  • Alan Aleman, dreamer. Or rather DREAMer—Aleman was born in Mexico and came to the United States a child, and he’s here to represent the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors act, a bill to allow children like Aleman to become citizens. The president partially enacted it using executive orders but hopes to see it become law as part of immigration reform.
  • Jack Andraka, science fair winner. Not just any science fair: The sixteen-year-old won the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair by creating a cheap, accurate test for pancreatic cancer. STEM education and health care innovation in one package!
  • Susan Bumgarner, preschool teacher. Early education makes for more skilled workers.
  • Deb Carney, small business owner. This Wisconsin micro-brewer represents entrepreneurial hustle and Main Street. Plus, who can say no to a tasty beer?
  • Tim Cook, Apple CEO.  Nobody in our office has heard of this guy.
  • Menchu de Luna Sanchez, nurse. Sanchez bravely cared for 20 at-risk infants in New York City during Hurricane Sandy, transporting them to hospitals with power even as her home flooded. Sanchez is an immigrant from the Philippines—maybe we should think about fixing the immigration system?
  • Bobak Ferdowsi, internet folk hero. Ferdowsi is a flight director for the Mars Curiosity Rover, the exploratory vehicle that landed on Mars in a live web-cast that also made the mohawk’d Ferdowsi the face of NASA. Another symbol of the need for STEM education and innovation, Ferdowsi is a living argument for government funding for science research.
  • Bradley Henning, machinist. Henning is Mr. Manufacturing, who took vocational classes to become a full-time machinist at a Kentucky company. He’s a reminder of the Obama’s administration’s agenda to invest in vocational training and American manufacturing.
  • Peter Hudson, CEO, iTriage. “Open government data” + “smart phone users” + reducing health care costs + “physician and entrepreneur” = Obama being very excited about how American companies can use technology to save money on health care, just like he promised.
  • Mayor Marie Lopez Rogers, Avondale, Arizona. Rogers, who grew up picking cotton with her migrant worker parents, is probably going to symbolize border communities for the purposes of talking about immigration reform.
  • Amanda E. McMillan, “Pay Discrimination Victim.” Obama has made equal pay for equal work a signature of his administration, starting with a law he signed early in his first term making it easier for women who face pay discrimination to sue their employers for redress. McMillan did just that, winning a $125,000 settlement from her former employers.
  • Lee Maxwell, wind technician. Community college + wind power = green jobs.
  • Abby Schanfield, Obamacare beneficiary. She can get health care insurance despite pre-existing conditions. Thanks, health care reform!

They won’t all get mentioned by name in the speech, but many will show up in tomorrow’s news. See if you can catch them all!

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