Bay Area Democratic legislators were generally pleased with President Obama’s State of the Union address tonight, while the business community was more divided in its evaluation.

Job creation and government spending were at the core of Obama’s speech, which included references to America’s crisis of confidence following the Russian launch of the Sputnik rocket in 1957 and challenged the nation to have a new “space race” in the form of innovation, education and infrastructure.

“We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology–an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people,” he said.

The president also spoke of the importance of reducing the deficit and restructuring the federal government to make it more efficient, but he made it clear he would not abandon government spending on what he considers crucial investments, such as education.

Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Creek, said he was happy the president emphasized investment in innovation and infrastructure, which are particularly important to Northern California constituents.

“I thought he did a very good job,” said Garamendi, who was elected to Congress in 2009 after having served as lieutenant governor, state insurance commissioner, and deputy secretary of the interior.

“He was basically saying we need to make it in America–bring these jobs back home and make it in America. So that was really, in my view, very important that he said, ‘These are the crucial investments.'”

Garamendi said the feeling in the House chambers, where Republicans and Democrats adopted an integrated seating chart this year, was less partisan than last year. The tone was more measured, he said.

This year’s State of the Union address came just over two weeks after Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Arizona, was critically injured in a shooting at a political event in Tucson, Ariz., that left six people dead, including a federal judge.

“I think the applause was not partisan,” this year, said Garamendi, who sat by Republicans from New Hampshire and Florida. “Almost all the applause I observed was based upon people hearing an issue and saying, ‘Yes, I think that was good.'”

Obama too seemed to seek a bipartisan tone in the speech, often mentioning Republican proposals he would be willing to support–such as health care tort reform–and promising to work with Republicans to streamline government.

“I am willing to eliminate whatever we can honestly afford to do without,” he said. “But let’s make sure what we’re cutting is really excess weight. Cutting the deficit by cutting our investments in innovation and education is like lightening an overloaded airplane by removing its engine.”

Garamendi said the president laid out a solid agenda, and now it’s up to Congress to find a way to do it.

He said his main point of contention with the president was Obama’s remarks about the war in Afghanistan. The president said he would begin bringing troops home in July.
“I think we ought to end the war now,” Garamendi said.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said in a statement that she too wanted the president to announce a “clear and urgent roadmap to peace in Afghanistan.”

She and Garamendi both described the need to rein in defense spending and invest the money in domestic affairs, and Lee criticized Obama’s plan to freeze annual domestic spending for the next five years, which the president said would save $400 billion over the next decade.

“Budgets are moral documents, and they reflect who we are, and what we value as a people,” Lee said.

She praised the president, though, for not bowing to Republican pressure to repeal 2010’s health care reform law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Business leaders offered a less unanimous review of Obama’s speech.

The Bay Area Council, a business-sponsored advocacy group, said Obama sent the “right signal” to the business community.

“He understands that our success is vital to America’s prosperity,” council president and CEO Jim Wunderman said in a statement.

The CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, which aims to connect San Francisco to Los Angeles, said the president’s vow to redouble infrastructure investment is the “exact sign” the private sector needs to be confident that the U.S. is committed to developing high-speed rail.

Obama said his goal was for 80 percent of Americans to have access to high-speed rail within the next 25 years.

“We are happy to have the partnership of our federal government and congressional delegation,” CEO Roelof van Ark said in a statement.

The Petaluma-based American Small Business League, however, accused Obama of relying on the “same tired rhetoric” while failing to ensure small businesses benefit from economic stimulus funds.

Janna Brancolini, Bay City News

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