Politics & Government

Local business leader attends State of the Union

In a day filled with electrifying moments, getting the president of the United States to smile at his joke was definitely the highlight, said James Brabeck, president and CEO of Farm Supply Company in San Luis Obispo.

“I didn’t get to shake the president’s hand, but I did get to talk to him,” said Brabeck, who attended the State of the Union Address as a guest of Rep. Lois Capps,

D-Santa Barbara. “I told him he was better than LeBron. He flashed that big grin and gave me a thumbs up.”

Two weeks ago, President Barack Obama had joked with Miami Heat forward LeBron James and his teammates as they celebrated their 2013 NBA championship at the White House.

The president said at the time, “sometimes if feels like they’re still fighting for a little respect. I can relate to that.”

On Tuesday, Brabeck sat in the gallery above the president and was struck by the deep respect and rare unanimity that seemed to fill the House of Representatives chamber.

“What was really humbling was seeing the entire leadership of our country in the same room,” he said. “They spend so much time there fighting. But I tell you, it was clear that everybody in that room absolutely loves the United States of America.”

After the speech, Brabeck hurried to catch the president’s attention as he left the chamber. The moment capped a momentous day, Brabeck said, that included lunch in the Congressional dining room with Capps and a reception hosted by House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.

Brabeck, a Democrat who calls himself a “closet Republican,” said he agreed with much of Obama’s speech, particularly the president’s call to raise the minimum wage.

“He’s got that right,” Brabeck said. “No one has worked for minimum wage in our company. If you take care of your people, they’ll take care of you.”

Capps said she was pleased the president emphasized job creation and called for immigration reform this year as a tool for growing the economy and creating a stable workforce.

In June, the Senate passed an immigration bill that included a 13-year path to citizenship for an estimated 8 million people. House Republicans are now hammering out an alternate proposal. Capps said Congress needs to act before that momentum ebbs.