Obama pushes jobs in economically depressed Mesquite, Texas
President Obama pitched his jobs bill in a familiar speech Tuesday in Mesquite, Texas. He called on Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.) and other House Republicans to vote on the bill less than 24 hours after they said it wouldn't be debated. It's a familiar partisan stalemate, one that cost the U.S. the first downgrade of its AAA rating from Standard & Poor's in August, nearly shut down the government earlier in the year and again last week during another budget debate, that time regarding funding for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. A few packs of protesters welcomed the presidential motorcade to Dallas, many holding signs asserting he was overburdening the economy with overreaching rules and misplaced stimulus. The rest cheered and reached out for autographs and handshakes. It is unclear why exactly the president decided to stop in Mesquite, a place the local city government describes as, "the best city in Texas with excellent employment opportunities." And for the most part, his presence underwhelmed the locals, many of who are struggling to gain a foothold in this unsteady economy. Bob Erdly, an unemployed electrician, avoided the crowds. He sat on his porch during the Obama speech Tuesday in Mesquite, an East Dallas suburb. His house is across the street from the venue, Eastfield College, a rather large community college. He was smoking a cigarette and wearing a ball cap. He drank a Miller Lite while listening to the Texas Rangers playoff game. I asked him what he thought about Obama these days. "Well I think he's done us a good job. It's like when any president's in there, he does one thing to mess up one group of people and he's bad. I remember the same thing with other presidents. When you have a guy at the top who doesn't really make all the rules and laws he just seems like the easy one to blame," he said. "What about Washington?" "That's still a mess. All my life it's been the same Republicans against Democrats. But they used to say, 'I like part of this idea but not this part so let's work together to get to some sort of agreement.' Now, it's like 'This is what I want. Take it or leave it.'" Erdly's been out of work for nearly a year and is forced to live with his ex-wife. He said he had no leads on a new job. The union hall nearby is out of work he said, and he's number 4,300 on the waiting list anyway. The only other option is going to work for a nonunion company, but he said things are even tough for them because of the economic slowdown. "The company I did work for they had a lot of bids in the process, then the economy got worse and worse and then all these places said 'Oh we're not going to build and we're not going to remodel. We're going to wait,'" he said. Still, he remained upbeat. After all, the Rangers were winning and the historically hot Texas summer was beginning to break. The sun was out and school kids were just leaving for home. The nearby crossing guard Charlotte Schiflett rolled her eyes when I asked her what she thought about Washington. She lived in Maryland until about 20 years ago, and she said she never wanted to go to the U.S. capital even then. As for Obama, she, too, suggested the economic problems were almost too big for a broken Washington system to fix. "Well, he's had a tough row to hoe in this recession and no jobs. I know my son's been out of job for a year. He came down from Maryland. He's been down here nine months and he still hasn't found a job," she said. I asked her if she thought Obama's jobs bill would help. She said she didn't know. The Obama administration claimed it would prevent up to 280,000 teachers from losing employment. "This bill will support almost 40,000 jobs right here in the great state of Texas," he exclaimed to applause just a few moments before. Schiflett thought that would be good considering the elementary school behind her has been laying off teachers. I then met Henry Miller on the side of the road, watching the police cars. He held a rolled up neon pink sign under his arm. He didn't know what HousingWire was, but he talked about the black genocide in Libya and asked me why the media was blacking out the issue. "Does the government have a say in what is published?" he asked me. "No. Not really," I said. He seemed disappointed and launched into how Al-Qaeda was an operative of the CIA. I followed him for a little but then tried to steer the conversation back to the economy. "Obama is a puppet," he said. "America has not controlled its economy since 1913 when Woodrow Wilson passed the Federal Reserve Act. When the Federal Reserve Act was passed, that's when the private banks took control of everything in this country. Everything in this country is controlled by the banks. If they want this economy to do better they can. If they want this economy to do bad they can. We have to have wars to keep things going…" I moved on and found a gutted house with some workers painting inside. My first thought was foreclosure – a sad side effect of the crisis – so I knocked on the door. Herbert Castilla was nearly covered with paint, and he seemed happy to be at work. He had zero opinions on Obama or Washington. When I asked him how business was going he said it had been tough, but more investors were hiring his company to refurbish homes to rent out so at least things were moving. Next, I caught up to a pair of Eastfield College students who were leaving the speech. It was apparently over. One of the girls, Vanessa Evans, a nursing major, actually got to shake Obama's hand. It was the first thing she blurted out when I asked her how the speech went. But she and her friend Sandra Pineda were still concerned about whether or not they would have jobs when they graduated or if they would be able to afford the student loans they were thinking of taking out. "When kids graduating from Princeton and Harvard can't get jobs what hope do we have?" Pineda said with the kind of melancholy many of this younger generation share. Most of them voted for Obama on the promise of hope and change. This sense of being let down may cost him in 2012. As I was leaving I stopped at a gas station nearby. You could still see the campus and a few police cruisers blaring around, but the helicopters were gone. The owner of the station was a small Asian woman who didn't want to be named, but she was friendly. Lottery tickets stared up through a recently cleaned display window. I asked her about Obama. "He's doing bad. I'm pro-life so I can't support him," she said. "And he's not handling the economy very well at all." She couldn't pinpoint which of the policies she didn't like, but she clarified that little else mattered if he wasn't pro-life. She did note that the economy was taking a toll on her. "I've been here 30 years and this is the single worst year ever," she said. "Do you think you'll make it through?" "I'll make it through because I have some savings, but it's the worst I have ever seen. Business has been cut by more than half. I think, I don't know, but I'll make it. But I'm just not a fan of his," she said. I wished her luck and left just as several cars began fighting for spots at the fuel pump. Her business got a slight boost when Obama arrived as the speech attendees filled up to head through the Dallas traffic. But like many of the president's previous economic maneuvers, this microscopic version of quantitative easing taking place at a local gas station pump, would prove just as fleeting. Write to Jon Prior. Follow him on Twitter @JonAPrior.