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COMSTOCK: Seven special guests at the State of the Union

Caroline Comstock

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The 2016 State of the Union of Address was unsurprisingly met with both praise and rebuke as the partisan divide grows wider each day. President Obama touched on topics including: the success of the Affordable Care Act, the strength of the U.S. despite threats from ISIS, the condemnation of profiling as it relates to immigration policies and, of course, the political gridlock amongst the two parties. The GOP responded to South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley’s speech with a different tune. The GOP spoke out against a government that has become too big, an ineffective defense policy, a “disastrous” healthcare system and a weak economy, to name a few.

Of course, both parties invited special guests from around the country to represent their respective views to the State of the Union. In case you missed them, here are some noteworthy guests:

  1. Sister Loraine Marie Maguire and Sister Constance Veit of Little Sisters of the Poor

Invited by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, Sister Loraine Marie Maguire and Sister Constance Veit publicly oppose the Affordable Care Act’s provision that mandates birth control coverage for group health insurance plans. Although an exception exists for religious employees, the sisters contend that government is interfering with the right to freedom of religion.

  1. Gloria Balenski

Gloria Balenski attended as a guest of Michelle Obama after Balenski wrote a letter to the president thanking him for his work on the Affordable Care Act. After suffering job loss, Balenski found her son’s college fund dwindling as the economy tanked. Their family’s struggles were exacerbated by her husband’s heart attack that racked up hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills. The Affordable Care Act protected Balenski’s family during crisis, and she reports that they have gotten back on their feet thanks to such protection.

  1. Satya Nadella

Satya Nadella is the CEO of Microsoft. His attendance likely signals the bipartisan recognition of the importance of technological innovation, especially its integration into the public sector. Nadella earned his masters in computer science at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Go Milwaukee.

  1. Jennifer Bragdon

Jennifer Bragdon was featured on camera during the college affordability discussion and the idea of two years of free community college. Obama hopes to move the plan forward by the end of the year. At age 42, Jennifer represents a non-traditional student who works, cares for a child and takes classes when she can in pursuit of a teaching degree. Bragdon’s story speaks to the flexibility that community college provides for working adults.

  1. Ronna Rice 

Ronna Rice serves as the fifth-generation CEO of her family’s Colorado-based global honey business Rice’s Lucky Clover Honey. Rice represents small business owners nationwide that would be able to increase exports should the Trans-Pacific Partnership pass this year. Note the honeybee brooch that was pinned on her jacket.

  1. Refaai Hamo

Hamo is a Syrian refugee whose story went viral after being featured on Humans of New York, a blog by photojournalist Brandon Stanton documenting the daily lives of people in New York. Hamo arrived in Detroit this past month after being relocated to the U.S. His story touches on incredible loss, including losing family and his struggle with cancer. Despite adversity, Hamo says he’s excited and proud to become an American citizen. His presence marks the president’s views on taking in Syrian refugees, certainly a point of contention between Democrats and Republicans.

  1. Kim Davis

The famous Kentucky clerk who refused to grant a marriage license to a gay couple was in attendance. Interestingly enough, it’s a mystery as to who invited her. The judge spent some time in jail for violating the newly federal law legalizing same-sex marriage. Her presence represents the GOP sentiment that legalizing gay marriage is in violation of separation of church and state.

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