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May 26, 2012

Ottumwan chats with first lady

Simonson volunteers, stays involved in politics

OTTUMWA — Nothing could pull him away from seeing the president of the United States at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Nothing, that is, but a call on his cell phone from the first lady.

“I’ve been doing some [political] organizing in Waterloo as  a volunteer,” said  Zach Simonson, 22, an Ottumwan currently attending the University of Northern Iowa.

When Barack Obama arrived in Iowa Thursday, Simonson knew he wanted another chance to see the president — the student had already seen him speak in Ottumwa. But he’d also been chosen as one of three young people across the country to participate in a conference call with Michelle Obama.

“I was at the state fairgrounds to see the president, and I ducked out to take the ... call from the first lady,” Simonson said. “I was able to talk to her about jobs.”

“Part of the reason why Zach was selected is because he believes that all people should be able to ... get involved in causes that matter to them,” said Liz Purchia, a campaign press secretary in Iowa.

Simonson, a 2008 Ottumwa High School graduate studying political communication at UNI, said he appreciated Mrs. Obama’s candor in answering his questions about people being out of work.

It’s not uncommon for political speakers to start touting their candidate’s accomplishments, Simonson said. And he knew there have been improvements over the past few years.

“It was really meaningful to me that she said we had a long way to go.”

That’s even with what he called 26-straight months of job creation; the nation still isn’t where it needs to be, Simonson said.

“The [discussion] should not be about accomplishments since 2008. It needs to be about how we’re going to get better starting [with] 2012.”

He told Michelle Obama that college graduates in Iowa are still unemployed or under-employed at higher rates than they should be. In fact just this week, a media report stated that nationally, college graduates are unemployed at a higher rate than those without four-year degrees.

He said the president seems aware of the value of skilled jobs in advanced manufacturing. And that means learning a trade or a skill.

Because while Simonson didn’t choose to go to a community college, while he attends UNI, he has watched his friends attend Indian Hills Community College — and graduate.

“They’ve had employers competing to give them jobs.”

In fact, it was at IHCC that the president last stopped in Ottumwa.

“I was really glad she talked about making a bigger investment in community colleges,” he said. “I felt a good connection to that because that was something the president spoke about when he was here [in Ottumwa].”

So did the first lady ask him anything? No. But she did ask something of America’s young people.

“There was a record [voter] turnout among youth in 2008. She said we’ll need to do that again in order to win in 2012.”

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