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If President Barack Obama tries to follow all of the advice of local leaders, he will indeed be a busy man -- and perhaps a miracle worker.
When asked what advice they would give Obama, local leaders said he needs to stimulate the economy but not increase the budget deficit and not raise taxes. He needs to keep us safe and take the war to terrorists. He needs to review federal education legislation and help local schools, businesses and farmers, they said. And be his own man, unswayed by the extreme elements within his party.
Most said tackling the economy should be Obama's priority.
“Jump start the economy however you need to do it,” Shelbyville Mayor Tom Hardesty said.
But Hardesty also said the President needs to address the growing budget deficit, a goal that may be difficult to reconcile with spending hundreds of billions to spur the economy.
“We've got to get a handle on the national debt; it's going to hurt our children and our grandchildren,” Hardesty said.
State Sen. Gary Tapp agreed that Obama needs to rein in deficit spending.
“Our children are going to be working nine or 10 months out of the year just to pay our taxes instead of the five-and-a-half months we are working now,” Tapp said.
Tapp also advised the new President “to be real careful with the taxpayers' money.”
State Rep. Brad Montell said he, too, would encourage the President “to go slow with any major tax policy change.”
Jack Trumbo, president of Shelby County Farm Bureau, said the best way the President can stimulate the economy is to help small businesses, farmers and ranchers. And the best way to do that, he said, is to “leave taxes on small businesses alone.”
Simpsonville Mayor Steve Eden said the best move Obama could make to help the local economy would be to get jump-start the homebuilding industry.
“They said that home mortgages are low on the list, but we need to put people back to work here building homes,” Eden said.
If federal money does get spread around, Superintendent James Neihof said he hopes it will benefit local schools.
“We're hearing it could benefit us, especially renovation projects,” Neihof said.
Neihof said he would also encourage Obama to continue a review of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation to ensure that it is doing everything it was intended to do.
“While we address the achievement gaps, we also need to make sure we are challenging the top level kids,” Neihof said. “We need to make sure they stay challenged and set the standards high.”
On the broader picture, Montell said he hopes Obama will remember that he is president of all of the people and that he should “govern from the middle.”
“I would remind him that he is the President and not [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi or [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid,” Montell said. “He should not allow them to dictate policy. He should be his own man.”
Hardesty said the President also needs to “keep us safe” and continue to “take the war to the terrorists.”
County Judge-Executive Rob Rothenburger said Obama's promise of change should come at a fundamental level in American society. The country, he said, has “become a nation of individuals” and has forgotten the sense of community and the need for taking care of one another.
“My advice would be to work on pulling the country together where individuals are taking care of one another versus the emphasis on special interests,” Rothenburger said. “We've gotten away from the Founding Fathers' intentions. We need to go back to work for the community.”