By Eli Yokley
WARRENSBURG, Mo. —
President Barack Obama spoke Wednesday at the University of Central Missouri, laying out his plan for a renewed economic focus and highlighting programs he sees as models for success.
Obama said the state’s designation of the university as an Innovation Campus is a model for schools looking to reduce costs and improve educational opportunities. Under the program, the school teams up with local high schools and businesses to help students get work-related training and college course credit in their various fields.
“That is the kind of innovation we need when it comes to colleges,” Obama said. “And I want the entire country to notice it.”
Gov. Jay Nixon, a fellow Democrat who was on hand for Wednesday’s speech, signed legislation earlier this month designating UCM as an Innovation Campus. Nixon awarded the campus one of eight grants last year to kick-start the effort.
State Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, who carried the bill this year in the Senate, said he was glad the idea could gain some traction nationally.
“I think it is a great model to be rolled out across the country,” he said. “It is going to reduce the cost of education and make it less time.”
But Kraus, a vocal conservative in the state Senate, said he thought the overall tone of the president was too partisan and unspecific.
“I don’t see that as a plan for moving forward,” he said. “Let’s come up with a real idea like the Innovation Campus. Overall, he really didn’t give us any depth.”
The tone was echoed earlier by U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt, a member of the Senate Republican leadership, who said the president’s speech was simply another messaging “pivot” back to the economy. He said Obama’s policies are the wrong ones.
“I’d like to see him get there and stay there until we get the private sector job growth we need in the country,” Blunt said. “(Democrats) keep talking about all the things you’d talk about if you want to slow the economy — taxes, health care, regulation.”
Organizers said about 2,000 people had received tickets for the Missouri event, Obama’s first visit to the state since concurrent trips to Joplin in 2011 and 2012 in the aftermath of the May 2011 tornado.
The message in Missouri followed a longer speech he delivered earlier in the day at Knox College in Galesburg, Ill. The location was full of symbolism. During a commencement speech there in 2005, he laid out what the White House billed as the clearest articulation of Obama’s economic philosophy. This time, five years after the financial crisis and the ensuing recession, Obama said the economy is improving, and he pledged to spend the rest of his term focused on ways to continue economic growth.
“Five years later, America has fought its way back,” Obama said. “We did this because Americans are gritty and work hard.”
As he has in the past, Obama touted 40 months of private sector job growth, and he attributed that in part to new life in the auto industry and increased exports. He said those jobs could fuel expanded opportunity for middle-income workers.
“What makes us the envy of the world is not just our ability to generate incredible wealth for a few people, it’s that we’ve given everybody a chance,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a close friend of Obama’s after becoming one of the first Democrats to endorse him during his 2008 campaign, spent the day traveling with the president on both of his stops. In a brief interview after Obama’s remarks, McCaskill said she believes the president is trying to “reset the table and say let’s really get to work on what is important to Americans, which is having a real job, having a house you can afford, having a good retirement, and decent health care.”
Obama plans to deliver a campaign-style series of speeches on the subject as lawmakers head home for the August recess. He is to deliver similar remarks on the economy today in Jacksonville, Fla.