Similar response surrounded the last visit to the Southeast Tennessee city by an American commander in chief. In 2007, then-President George W. Bush dropped in only to face a divided welcome that included supporters and opponents.
Six years later, President Obama — fresh off his 2012 re-election and eager to set about promoting favor for White House policies on the economy, health care, taxation, sequestration and debt reduction — is primed for such a visit at the Amazon Fulfillment Center in Chattanooga which employs some 2,500 workers.
Although his visit won’t include Amazon’s facility in north Bradley County whose workforce is about 800, he is certainly aware of its presence and of the company’s pride in the performance of both centers.
As honored as Southeast Tennesseans should be to host a U.S. president — whether Democrat, Republican or other — it is bittersweet that many opponents will use the opportunity to gain leverage for their own agendas. Certainly, this is their right, so long as it is carried out in a peaceful and nonthreatening manner.
We saw the same occur in our own Cleveland hometown just three weeks ago when local businessman Dan Rawls protested against the new Common Core educational standards that were supported by Gov. Bill Haslam. Rawls showed his displeasure with hand-painted signs he placed near the edge of his property, in full view of the South Cleveland Community Center which hosted the governor’s visit.
The rest became political history. Cleveland City Manager Janice Casteel and Cleveland City Councilman George Poe reportedly contested the signs’ placement, saying they sat on the public right of way. The signs eventually were removed, much to Rawls’ chagrin who felt his constitutionally protected right to freedom of speech (under the First Amendment) was violated.
The debate on whether the signs were unlawful based on right of way proximity was left unresolved. But since the incident, Bradley County Sessions Court Judge Sheridan Randolph denied a request by Rawls to issue criminal summonses for Casteel and Poe on charges of vandalism, criminal trespass and official oppression.
Regardless, the businessman certainly had the right to express himself. And frankly, in the fairest and best interest of all, the signs should have been left alone. Or, at the very least, the entities involved could have mutually agreed to relocate the handmade messaging a few feet further back so as to avoid any potential infringement on the public right of way.
According to published reports, Councilman Poe argued the signs were an embarrassment to the city, especially knowing that Haslam was visiting Cleveland to announce two state grants. It is our belief the governor has viewed such peaceful protests before in other Tennessee communities and would not have departed Cleveland with any ill-will toward our hometown nor its people following his visit.
Had calmer heads prevailed, resolution was easily within reach.
And that returns us to President Obama’s visit today. Certainly, our national leader’s appearance will be protested by those who oppose one or more of his policies. Too, his historic drop-in to The Volunteer State is being ignored or heckled by elected leaders whose political views, and parties, differ from his own.
This is the sad part of political reality.
Regardless of one’s opinions, political partisanships or personal preferences, this is the American president. The man, and the office, should be given their due respect.
To do anything less is a disservice to the American people.
Frankly, we wish President Obama was coming to Cleveland — “The City With Spirit” — or, at the very least, to Amazon’s fulfillment center near Charleston. But the president is a busy man. Such reality dictates prioritizing.
Nonetheless, even if not to Bradley County, then we welcome President Obama to Southeast Tennessee!
Mr. President, we hope you enjoy your brief stay.
We thank you for acknowledging the importance of American manufacturing, especially that which benefits Cleveland, Bradley County and the residents of our surrounding region!