Utahn, GM chief, ‘dreamer’ to be guests at Obama address
Washington • The first woman to lead a major automaker, an Army Ranger who has met multiple times with President Barack Obama and a man brought to the U.S. illegally as a child are joining Michelle Obama to watch the president deliver his State of the Union address Tuesday.
It has become tradition for the first lady's guests to include those whose personal stories can help highlight a particular policy or issue. Twenty-four people have been invited to join Mrs. Obama in her box, including two Boston Marathon bombing survivors, an openly gay former NBA player and an Illinois woman whose emergency unemployment benefits have run out.
The guests are:
— Misty DeMars, Oak Park, Ill. The White House says DeMars lost her job because of budget cuts a week after buying a home with her husband in May 2013. She wrote to Obama after her emergency unemployment benefits expired.
— Peter Mouskondis, Salt Lake City. Mouskondis is president and CEO of Nicholas & Company, Inc., a third-generation, family-owned and operated food service distribution company, with roughly 500 employees. The White House says the company's emphasis on work-life balance and benefits, including maternity, paternity and bereavement leave, have contributed to worker productivity and company growth.
— Cory Remsburg and Craig Remsburg, Phoenix. Army Ranger Sgt. 1st Class Cory Remsburg has met with Obama three times since a roadside bomb in Kandahar, Afghanistan, on his 10th deployment, left him in a coma for three months, partially paralyzed and brain-damaged. His father, Craig, a retired Air Force Reserve firefighter, and stepmother Annie, are his caretakers.
— Estiven Rodriguez, New York City. The son of a Dominican immigrant, Estiven spoke no English when he came to the U.S. at age 9. Now a high school senior, Estiven is one of the top students in his class and will attend Dickinson College in the fall on a scholarship from the Posse Foundation. He recently attended a White House event on expanding college opportunity.
— John Soranno, St. Paul, Minn. The CEO of Punch Pizza, which has eight locations in the state, and co-owner, John Puckett, raised the company-wide minimum wage to $10 an hour. A ninth store is set to open this summer.
— Nick Chute, Minneapolis. Chute is a Punch Pizza employee who the White House says has benefited from his employer's decision to pay a higher minimum wage.
— Cristian Avila, Phoenix. Avila and two younger siblings were brought to the U.S. illegally when Avila was 9. Now 23, he is a so-called Dreamer who has benefited from an Obama policy allowing young people who immigrated illegally with their parents to avoid deportation. Avila recently fasted for 22 days to call for an immigration overhaul.
— Mary Barra, Detroit. Barra became the first female CEO of General Motors this month after 33 years with the company. GM also benefited from a federal bailout of the auto industry.
— Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear. The Democrat is an advocate of Obama's health care law. He embraced an expansion of Medicaid enabled by the law, and his state established a state-based insurance marketplace that the Obama administration has frequently touted.
— San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee. The first Asian-American to run San Francisco, Lee is the son of Chinese immigrants and has helped mobilize support in Silicon Valley for an immigration overhaul. The White House said Lee is also working to raise San Francisco's minimum wage.
— Antoinette Tuff, Atlanta. Police credited the bookkeeper and mother with preventing a shooting at an Atlanta-area elementary school in August by talking the gunman into surrendering.
— Tyrone Davis, Winston-Salem, N.C. Blind since age 9, the third-year law school student is a fellow with the Environmental Defense Fund's Climate Corps. The White House said that as a fellow he developed recommendations that showed Elizabeth City State University how it could save $31,000 a year and reduce carbon emissions by nearly 200 metric tons annually.
— Vice Adm. Michelle Howard, Washington. Howard is set to become the Navy's first female four-star admiral this year. The White House said she will also become the first African-American female to achieve four stars. In 1999, she became the first black woman to command a Navy ship when she took command of the USS Rushmore.
— Sabrina Simone Jenkins, Charleston, S.C. The single mother served in the Air Force and then studied at DeVry University while working full time, caring for ill family members and dealing with her own serious medical issues. The White House said Jenkins graduated at age 42 with a 3.7 GPA and then earned a master's degree, but now has nearly $90,000 in student loan debt.
— Andra Rush, Detroit. A descendant of the Mohawk tribe from the Six-Nation Reservation, Rush is the founder and chair of the Rush Group. The family of companies is one of the biggest Native American-owned businesses in the U.S., the White House said.