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Rocky Mountain Views

January 20, 1999 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JIM LEHRER: Now, an outside Washington look at the president’s State of the Union message and the Republican response. It comes from a diverse group of Denver voters we have brought together before to talk about this and other things. Elizabeth Farnsworth spoke with them last night right after the president’s speech.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Well, you’ve all seen the president give the State of the Union in the House chamber where he was impeached a month ago. Bob Jornayvaz, what was your reaction to the speech?

ROBERT JORNAYVAZ, Republican: It was a well-delivered, well-choreographed speech that spoke to just about everybody. I mean, he had something in there for everybody. But what struck me is he talks of 15 years of surpluses coming, and that means that the government has 15 years of more taxes than they need, and he wants to keep it and spend it, and so I guess that kind of scares me. If we’re going to have those kinds of surpluses, I’d like — not only would I like, I need some of it back. So that’s — that really struck me.

ERIC DURAN, Democrat: I disagree with that. A lot of Republicans like to compare and saying, you know, in a household you have to have a budget and you have to stick to it. Well, I think this is one of the first years that we’ve had a balanced budget, which means year to year, we’re spending as much as we’re getting in. And in addition, we’re going to have some surpluses. But in the past, we’ve been borrowing from Social Security, using some of those funds in order to augment our living for the present, so what we need to do is invest in our credit, pay down some of our credit cards and use some of that surplus also to save for the future in case we have any economic downturns or recession.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Sara Smith, your reaction to the speech?

SARA SMITH: I liked how actually it started out addressing a lot of very important issues, I think– the aging of America and the planning for that and investing in that and being ready for it. That’s really the most impressive part of the whole speech is the tone. I think everyone kind of struck a tone about “there are things that are coming up that we really need to address.”

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Brent Neiser, what did you think of the president’s demeanor? Here he is in the middle of a trial—- -

BRENT NEISER: I think he, you know, in my book, is the best actor I’ve ever seen. You know, he should win many Academy Awards. He’s a professional politician; he’s been doing this since really he was a teenager, so he was great, and only Bill Clinton could have come off as well as he did tonight. I liked a lot of the themes about savings. I’d like to see more about personal responsibility and investing for yourself and to build wealth on individual initiative. Another thing I like is the Republicans are pulling him more and more to the center, and I think that’s one of the reasons he’s so popular is people can really embrace some of those centrist ideas and centrist notions.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Dee Cisneros, what did you think of his demeanor?

DEE CISNEROS: Well, I felt that he had covered all my family, from my two-year-old grandson to my 107-year-old mother-in-law and that we have — my baby boomer children. So I feel that he really touched on the family, the nuclear family. He spread out into the community. He went into the urban, the rural, the agriculture. He touched on that, and he did spread out into the international base. We’re a very small planet, and we really need to learn to get along, and I think that the president and the Congress should show the rest of the world how to get along and not have so much partisan tension. That’s the only way we’re going to pass any bills.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Chris Goodwin, did he speak to the things that you were interested in, the concerns you have?

CHRIS GOODWIN: Not really, and he always paints a much rosier picture of the economy than I think exists. He talks about jobs being created, but last year was also a record year for layoffs, and a lot of those jobs that are being lost are being replaced by lower-wage jobs. That’s one of the reasons that working families are struggling so much. He talked a lot about health care reform, but it was all a piecemeal approach. A patient’s bill of rights is great for everybody who can afford health insurance; it really doesn’t affect people who don’t have it, and that situation needs to be addressed.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Linda Houston, two of your Denver suburban congressmen did not attend tonight. Bob Shaffer and Tom Tancredo, both Republicans, said that they didn’t think it was appropriate for the president to give the State of the Union when the trial is underway. In fact, Congressman Tancredo said that he didn’t want to participate in a “made-for-TV spectacle.” What’s your reaction to that?

LINDA HOUSTON: Well, I think they have the right to do what their heart tells them to do. I would certainly hope they at least listened, because they have to represent the public also. But I also think there is sort of the Hollywood in all of this. You know, I mean, he can get up there; he can — I mean, it’s just amazing to me that this guy, the first President of the United States to deliver a State of the Union address as an impeached president, and just pulls it off like it was yesterday’s – you know — cheerios. I mean, I just — I can hardly believe he can do that, I mean, it was sort of amazing to me. He still has the trial hanging around his neck, and he still has a lot of garbage that needs to be taken care of.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Susana.

SUSANA CORDOVA: Although, you know, one thing that I would say, I guess, in response to that is I know for myself I’m not paying a whole lot of attention to it, and maybe it’s because I’m busy or maybe it’s — I don’t know. I don’t find it particularly interesting. I try to glance at the headlines. I can probably count on one hand the number of articles that I’ve even skimmed, and I think that’s -

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Explain why.

SUSANA CORDOVA: Well, I’m very disappointed in the president. On many levels, I feel some sort of personal disappointment about it, and my feelings were probably stronger when I felt like it was going to be — have a bigger impact on my life. I don’t really feel like it’s had a very big impact on my life, and the people that I’ve talked to at work agree with me for the most part.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: So when you look at the — when you’re watching the trial, the few moments you are watching, does it just seem like something taking place far away, that it’s not about you?

SUSANA CORDOVA: Well, I mean, I don’t think I’ve ever — I haven’t watched any of it. I mean, the — the newspapers headlines or the small amount that I’ve read, to me, seems like partisan bickering.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Dennis Coughlin, how do you feel about it? Just -just the phenomenon and all that’s happening in Washington, does it relate to your life?

DENNIS COUGHLIN: You’re seeing history in the making, and unfortunately, I don’t think Congress or the president comes across very well. I agree with you that it has turned out to be a partisan issue, which I don’t think it should be at all. I think that the president’s behavior, as I’ve said before, is awful; it’s abhorrent. It’s ludicrous for a guy in this kind of position to be doing those kinds of things. What will history say? How do you explain it to your children? What do we look like to the rest of the world? When we went after Saddam, England followed us, and nobody else did. Shows you what kind of credibility he’s lost in the international community.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Jim Sulton, do you agree?

JAMES SULTON: Well, just looking at the State of the Union address, I think I have to concede that it has become a ritual and that it is, in that context, appropriate for the president to deliver the address. I certainly hate to suggest that it should have been longer. (Laughter) But, on the other hand, it is typical State of the Union, and therefore it tries to cover comprehensive turf, and the devil is always in the details, so whether you’re looking at his comments about the economy or about the Y2K or whatever problem, you’re still always going to be at a loss as to how, and it left me with that feeling. I do agree that he delivers the speech as well as anybody I’ve ever seen deliver the speech, but I think that once you get past the ritual, you understand that there are some serious issues here.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Tom Bock, back on the question that Susana raised: Do you feel like she does, that this is something that doesn’t touch your life, really; that it’s quite separate from you, the impeachment and the trial that’s underway in the Senate?

THOMAS BOCK: No, I think it touches my life a lot. I mean, not that I sit in front of the television and absorb everything that’s going on, but I think this is significant to the history of our country. Obviously we have an impeached president. There’s a trial going on. He comes on as having solutions for everyone. I was just overwhelmed with the number of people he can make happy in, what, about 70 minutes or so. But there’s a lot of holes in it.

ROBERT JORNAYVAZ: You know, the impeachment is very, very important as to what’s going on, but all these other issues are what we all really care about. If Clinton is run off, the economy’s going to keep going; the country’s going to keep going; the Constitution’s going to keep going. And so, granted, the impeachment is important to a lot of people, but these other issues are a lot more important. I’m just like Susana: I’ve quit watching it. I’ve got a family to raise, a business to run, and issues that are important to me. And so — but I am concerned about the federal government wanting for the next 15 years to take as much of my money as they can and sending it to Washington to have this huge bureaucracy.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Brent Neiser, how do you explain the president’s continuing popularity? 63 percent of the people in America still approve of the way he’s doing his job. It’s higher than it was last year; it’s much higher than it was two years ago, when it was 50 percent. How do you explain that in the middle of this trial?

BRENT NEISER: I think it goes back to these little issues that people can get excited about, and they’re starting to translate into broad themes for the next century– the need to do personal savings, to take individual responsibility; look at health care, reform Social Security, reform Medicare. And I think those are appropriate things to discuss. Also, it’s a great comfort to what Representative Jennifer Dunne talked about. There are no -

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: In the Republican response to the State of the Union?

BRENT NEISER: Right. There are no tanks circling the capitol. In many ways, the Supreme Court is meeting in the morning, the chief justice goes over in the afternoon to preside over the senate, I think the senate meets on its business in the morning, and then they do this trial action in the afternoon. All the workings of government are taking place, and the Constitution is working.

JAMES SULTON: We can’t deny the historic significance of the impeachment. At the same time, the evaluation of the president may just be based in people’s minds on his performance in the job. It may seem European as a notion, but people care less about the sexual aspects of his life than they do about how well he’s performing his job.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: All right. That’s all the time we have. Once again, it’s great to see you all. Thanks for being with us.