Natural gas is great, but Nevadans need jobs

President Barack Obama got a fairly good reception Thursday when he showed up in Las Vegas to repeat some of the highlights of his State of the Union speech.

But I’d already seen that speech. And I was hoping for something more.

Obama telegraphed his theme by choosing the UPS facility near McCarran International Airport to deliver his remarks. UPS and 13 other companies have fielded a million vehicles that run on liquefied natural gas, which burns cleaner than diesel fuel. Some of those vehicles formed the backdrop for Obama’s remarks.

But the president was also surrounded by a state slammed by the highest rates of unemployment and home foreclosures in the nation. I was expecting Obama to at least mention those things, if not suggest ways to fix them.

Surely, his political opponents have given him the opportunity. Republican Mitt Romney came to Southern Nevada in October and said foreclosures have to “hit the bottom” before the market resets itself, and none of his fellow candidates have since disagreed.

The only Republican jobs proposals are attacks on regulations and calls to continue tax cuts that benefit well-off Americans, the so-called job creators.

Obama essentially repeated highlights from Tuesday’s speech. And while it’s great to know the president believes a rich guy should pay a higher tax rate than his secretary, that he’s going to throw open nearly 40 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico to oil and gas development, and that millionaires should pay at least 30 percent in taxes, none of that is going to get an unemployed guy hired or give hope to a severely underwater homeowner.

Not to wag my finger in the president’s face, Jan Brewer-style, but a simple “I feel your pain” would have killed you?

It’s not like Obama didn’t have the material, either. In fact, his State of the Union speech had several bones he could have tossed Nevada’s way.

He could have held the speech on one of the several campuses of the College of Southern Nevada and detailed how that institution could help unemployed people get training to do new jobs. (He outlined one such partnership in Charlotte, N.C., between Siemens and Central Piedmont Community College, in which the company helped design courses and even paid the tuition of would-be workers.)

He could have visited nearly any residential street in town and talked about his plan to give homeowners a chance to refinance at historically low interest rates, which he estimated on Tuesday would save each of them about $3,000 per year. Granted, that’s not a lot to somebody whose $400,000 home is now worth $200,000, but it’s better than nothing.

He could have talked about his plan to allow the development of clean-energy projects on public lands, enough to power 3 million homes. Nevada has plenty of public land, plenty of sun, wind and geothermal resources, and plenty of people who just might benefit from job-training programs to manufacture and operate those kinds of projects.

He could even have visited eastern Las Vegas and talked about his support for the Dream Act, or something similar to it, the way he did in his State of the Union speech.

But instead he focused on clean energy?

Don’t get me wrong: UPS and those other companies spent a lot of money buying more expensive, less-polluting trucks, and they should be praised for doing it. More companies should follow their example.

But the president had a prime opportunity to speak to the real needs of real people in a city and state that are still hurting — and a state he needs to win over if he wants to be re-elected. It’s a shame he missed it.

 

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/SteveSebelius or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or ssebelius@ reviewjournal.com.

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