First 100 Days: special issues — labor, science, reproductive rights, gay rights, the arts

President Barack Obama
REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
President Barack Obama

Labor leader Ray Waldron: Workers getting a ‘bigger share of the pie’

Ray Waldron
Minnesota AFL-CIO
Ray Waldron

Ray Waldron, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO, began his career as a roofer. He worked his way through the ranks of union leadership first by representing roofers and later becoming president of the Building and Construction Trades Council for 22 years.

Waldron, 62, now oversees a federation representing 1,000 unions serving between 325,000 and 375,000 union workers in Minnesota. He says he was a “diehard Hillary [Rodham Clinton] supporter” but switched his allegiance to Barack Obama after she withdrew from the presidential primary.

“He’s done a lot of what he talked about when he campaigned,” Waldron said of Obama. “There seems to be a lot of hope and some change in Washington, and people feel good about the country as bad as economically we’re sitting. He’s probably done more in his first 100 days than I can remember a president doing, and I’ve seen two or three.”

Waldron praises Obama for repealing “a lot of the bad Bush mandates,” including a ban on project labor agreements, which are pre-hire collective bargaining pacts designed to prevent strikes and lockouts on government building projects. He likes Obama’s choice for secretary of Labor, former U.S. Rep. Hilda Solis of California.       

“Selfishly, I’d like to see him work a little harder on the Employee Free Choice Act, but it’s on his plate. I think the health of the economy, and the business of the economy, is more important than that right now,” Waldron said.

He thinks workers will be getting a “bigger share of the pie” under the new administration. “The business community in the United States of America has had the best ride in the last eight years than I can ever imagine. They’ve been given absolutely everything they’ve wanted. … The business community absolutely has been in heaven.”

—Casey Selix

Science advocate Shawn Otto: Obama embraces scientific method in listening to all views, then acting

Shawn Otto
Shawn Otto

Shawn Otto of Marine on St. Croix is a screenwriter and also the CEO of, a national organization that thrust science issues into last year’s campaigns. His views:

“President Obama really has addressed concerns we had with the prior administration’s tendency to trump science with ideological perspectives. Obama has embraced the idea of listening to many perspectives, even from his opponents, which is a classic approach of science. Specifically, he issued a memorandum instructing officials throughout his administration to inform their policy decisions with sound science. He also moved to expand spending on science and technology research, the type of thing that powers our economy forward in the long run. We had fallen behind on that.

“Further, he delivered on a campaign pledge by signing an executive order allowing research on new lines of stem cells that had been created since 2001. And he appointed people who are extremely well regarded in their fields — people like Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel Laureate in physics.

“Still, Obama needs to focus more on streamlining the approval process for research projects. A lot of red tape and bureaucracy has accumulated over the years. And while he has made significant first steps in terms of building credibility, there is concern about his ability to push energy and climate change legislation through Congress. They are very important issues, and it would be a shame to see them get balled up in politics, which they are danger of becoming right now.

—Sharon Schmickle

Planned Parenthood’s Sarah Stoesz: High marks for overturning bans limiting reproductive freedom

Sarah Stoesz
Planned Parenthood
Sarah Stoesz

The more President Obama leaves Washington’s beltway to meet with Americans, so much the better, says Sarah Stoesz, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota.

Obama’s ongoing commitment to civic and political engagement, a cornerstone of his campaign, has particularly impressed her.

“We won’t see the results for some time,” Stoesz says, “but there’s a significant difference between an administration that sits in Washington and listens to people who talk to themselves inside the beltway and the administration that leaves Washington and listens to people in the country and brings that perspective back to Washington.”

For the past eight years, Stoesz has led Planned Parenthood, an 81-year-old organization with 27 clinics in three states and a $27 million annual budget. Her career includes stints as vice president of public affairs for Allina Health Systems and assistant to the employment commissioner during former Gov. Rudy Perpich’s administration.

As a women’s advocate, Stoesz gives Obama high marks for overturning a number of bans on reproductive rights, including the global gag rule, which withheld funding for groups that mentioned abortion to women seeking reproductive and family planning services. 

“He has set a whole new tone in the health-care reform debate that is very focused on women’s health. His secretary of State [Hillary Rodham Clinton] has made it abundantly clear that women’s rights and women’s health will be a cornerstone of foreign policy.”

The appointment of Clinton was “brilliant.” Kathleen Sebelius, who was confirmed Tuesday as secretary of Health and Human Services, is “very, very bright.” All in all, she says, “The IQ of the cabinet has increased significantly” since the previous administration.

—Casey Selix

Outfront Minnesota’s Amy Johnson: Pleased with advances in gay rights agenda on all but gay marriage

Amy Johnson
Amy Johnson

Amy Johnson — executive director of OutFront Minnesota, a gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender advocacy organization — was a Hillary Rodham Clinton supporter during the fight for the Democratic presidential nomination.

“When he started out running he had a nine-point GLBT agenda, and he’s doing it. He’s ticking off the nine points and that’s tickled us,” she said.

“There was controversy at his swearing-in. Like many others, I thought (Pastor) Rick Warren was a poor choice to be at his inauguration, but the more I studied it, the more it became clear he’s not the poster boy for anti-gay stuff, and he’s good on other progressive stuff.

“That aside, the president is moving forward on hate crimes [and] permanent partner legislation. So there’s been nothing really disappointing. I think one of the things that might be difficult (of the nine points) is to fight workplace discrimination. There are still states where it’s legal to fire someone simply because they’re gay and that could end up being a state’s right issue.

“One thing that’s a little disappointment: He refuses to draw the line at marriage. He supports civil unions. A federal civil union? If he offers that, great. I’ll take it, but separate but equal still is not equal. But overall, I’m very pleased. In a way, I’m amazed he’s tending to some of these social issues at all. He’s been handed a load, but he’s not backing off the other things he promised. 

“From what I can tell, he’s not mishandled anything. He’s surrounded himself with good people. He has not mishandled anything. It’s not like poor [President Bill] Clinton. In his first 100 days, he came up with ‘Don’t ask, don’t tell.’  That is just terrible policy.”

As it turns out, though, Johnson has one other problem with Obama’s first 100 days. She’s disappointed “he took a Portuguese waterdog, or whatever it is,  over a Yorkshire terrier. I don’t understand that choice.”

—Doug Grow

Arts advocate Sheila Smith: Obama’s outspoken support a breath of fresh air for cultural community

Sheila Smith
Sheila Smith

Sheila Smith, executive director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts, is pleased with the new administration and its heightened interest in the arts:

“President Obama’s outspoken support for the arts and arts education has been a breath of fresh air for the arts and cultural community, because it is in stark contrast to the previous administration, which either ignored the arts or cut arts funding.

“Obama’s use of artist Shepard Fairey’s iconic ‘Hope’ poster for his campaign and inclusion of Yo-Yo Ma, Aretha Franklin and others in his inauguration were strong symbols that this was going to be a different kind of arts president. There is a new perspective in the White House on how the arts and creativity can contribute to revitalizing our economy and our image abroad.

“As a result, the arts community is looking for two things: first, Obama’s leadership in making sure the arts and creativity are in the forefront of America’s vision for the future, and second, that he delivers on the priorities set forth in his campaign’s arts policy statement.

“The Obama campaign created an Arts Policy Committee comprised of arts administrators, researchers, and artists to advise the candidate on arts policy issues. With their input, he published a policy statement calling for:

• increased support for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)

• promoting cultural diplomacy

• attracting foreign talent by streamlining the visa process

• providing health care to artists,

• passing an Artists-Museum Partnership Act,

• increasing resources for the U.S. Department of Education Arts Education program,

• creating an “ArtsCorps” of young artists trained to work in low-income schools and communities, and

• publicly championing the importance of arts education.”

“In his first 100 days, President Obama has already made good on several of these promises, while we await action on others:

NEA funding
“An additional $50 million in funding for the NEA was included in the stimulus package to preserve jobs in the cultural sector, and those dollars are already being committed across the country to help struggling nonprofit arts organizations during the economic crisis. In addition, with small funding increases in both FY09 and FY10 for the NEA, the administration is providing another encouraging sign that they are following through on campaign promises. The NEA is required to send 40 percent of its funding in block grants directly to the states, so some of it will come here to support the arts in Minnesota.”

Expanded national service for artists and musicians
“In April, the president signed the Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act to provide added support for artists to take part in national service programs.”

Arts leadership
“The resignation of Dana Gioia as NEA chairman provides the Obama administration an opportunity to appoint someone with a new vision of how to further the arts in America. While we had hoped to see the appointment take place in the first 100 days, it has not yet been made. (Rumors are flying that the new chairman has been selected and is currently being vetted). It is expected that whomever he chooses will take the agency in a new direction, and there is high interest in the community to see what direction the agency takes. Minnesota state Sen. Richard Cohen has been on the short list of potential NEA nominees.)

“In the meantime, the appointment of Kal Penn to serve as White House public liaison for arts and culture issues marked a major milestone with the first-time creation of such a position within the White House. 

“The remaining goals laid out in the Obama campaign’s arts policy statement will take time, as they are subject to the legislative process, where the wheels move slowly. While NEA funding can be addressed in annual budgets, policies that involve tax law, health care and education will take longer.

“The president’s campaign materials highlighted his personal experience as an author of two books and how the arts “embody the American spirit of self-definition.” As he attempts to re-establish cooperative working relationships with peoples across the globe, it is clear that we have only begun to see how he will use and celebrate the creative power of the arts to further America’s interests.”

—Jay Weiner

President Obama: The first 100 days
· An overview from community leaders and activists
· Minnesota Congressional delegation
· Current and former public officials
· Special issues: labor, science, gay rights, the arts

Related: Europe’s love affair with Obama by Michael Goldfarb

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Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Molly Duepner on 05/06/2009 - 02:46 pm.

    I am excited by the breaking down of Obama’s actions on these important issues. I am also excited to say that we have a candidate here in MN who will fight for all of these issues once he is elected governor! Senator John Marty has been a MN champion for GLBT issues, women’s issues (including standing up for Planned Parenthood). He fights for fair wages for all workers and always is looking for ways to help the environment. MN needs his bold progressive leadership especially after Paw-lenty of years of waiting for things to get better here.

  2. Submitted by Neal Krasnoff on 01/21/2013 - 05:23 pm.

    Don’t push your luck, progs.

    For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.

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