Lawrence and Douglas County

Lawrence and Douglas county

Questions abound about Obama’s KU visit

April 15, 2013


For what may be the first time in more than 130 years, a sitting U.S. president is on his way to Kansas University.

And the reaction from KU students, as far as sophomore Rachel Hagan can tell, has been a resounding “Huh?”

“A lot of people are saying, just, why?” Hagan said as she sat around a table with some friends at the Underground eating space in Wescoe Hall at lunchtime Monday. “But aside from all the whys, I’m excited it’s happening.”

Other students, too, reported their enthusiasm about the imminent visit from President Barack Obama on Friday, which KU announced this past weekend. But their excitement was followed quickly by questions: When, exactly? Why is he coming? Where will he be? Can I go?

None of this information was contained in the KU announcement, and both KU and White House spokespeople said those details still weren’t available Monday.

Kansas Democratic Party Chairwoman Joan Wagnon did say Monday that the White House told state party officials it was looking for a site that could hold 3,000 to 6,000 people for a midday event.

Though the situation might be confusing for locals, this is often how it goes when the president is coming to town, said Bill Lacy, director of KU’s Dole Institute of Politics.

“There’s really nothing odd going on here,” Lacy said. “This is pretty standard stuff. But it’s fun to get to watch it up close and personal, for a change.”

Lacy made it clear he was not at all involved in the planning for Obama’s visit and had no knowledge of what is happening. But as a former White House political director under Ronald Reagan, he’s had some experience with presidential scheduling.

And in general, Lacy said, the president’s schedule is set on his terms and his alone. Except in the case of a major event where the president’s attendance is a given, such as the Democratic National Convention, things are usually kept open until a few days beforehand.

“The president’s schedule is not set nearly as far ahead as everybody would think that it would be,” Lacy said.

So, for now, people are left to wonder what time of day Obama might appear in public — if, of course, he appears in public at all.

“If we know he’s going to be available, I will be there,” KU sophomore Davis St. Aubin said, “if I’m not taking a test.”

Other students said they would do whatever they needed to do to see the president, if the chance arose. Junior Kyle Maddox said that if that means he’ll have to miss his 1 p.m. class Friday, then so be it.

“Who would honestly miss that chance?” Maddox said.

Uncertainty is simply part of the game when you’re dealing with the president, Lacy said. He laughed when recalling that event organizers would sometimes be peeved when Reagan’s staff couldn’t confirm a month in advance that the president would be accepting an invitation.

“I would say to them, ‘If you’ve got to have an answer today, the only answer I can give today is no,’" Lacy said.

The president has a limited amount of time to devote to pursuing his agenda, Lacy said, so he can’t clog his schedule by committing to events weeks in advance.

So that would explain why the time might not be set. But that was hardly the only question popping up on campus Monday.

“Why Kansas?” freshman Fiona Wood said. “Why now?”

Lacy said he didn’t want to get into speculation on what the visit may be about, but he said it’s typical for the White House to need a good amount of time to work out logistics.

“The White House may not know what they want to do, or they may know what they want to do,” Lacy said. “I don’t have a clue. But it does take time before you can announce details.”

Even when former president George H.W. Bush accepted the Dole Leadership Prize at KU in 2008, or when Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos came to the institute last fall, it required security efforts from secret services and multiple law enforcement agencies. So a presidential visit would mean a whole host of security plans to work out.

And if there’s a public event involved, Lacy said, the White House will need to figure out how to admit attendees.

“The job of moving the president around and protecting him is a really big job,” Lacy said. “But the people who do it are extraordinarily professional. And they’re used to doing these things turning on a dime.”

Several students Monday wondered how that huge operation might affect life on campus on Friday, especially when it comes to traffic and parking.

Even KU’s Young Democrats group isn’t sure what it will be able to do. But senior Evan Gates, who just stepped down as the group’s president as she prepares to graduate, said they’ll be pumped whatever happens.

“We’re going to see what he ends up talking about, and if it’s a public event, we’ll definitely do our best to be there,” Gates said. “If not, our plan is to be a welcoming group for him.”

And senior Jacob Peterson, president of the KU College Republicans, said he thought the news of the visit was great, too, and not just because he hoped there’d be a chance to ask the president some questions.

“I think it’s good anytime that we have any political leader on campus,” Peterson said. “I think that’s a good chance to get people involved, and we want people, regardless of where they stand, to get involved with politics.”

And a chance like this is rare: Mike Reid, a spokesman for the KU Memorial Unions who runs the website, said his best guess after some research was that the last sitting U.S. president to visit the KU campus was Rutherford B. Hayes in 1879.

Even with all the questions, senior C.J. Harries said, it should be quite the day Friday.

“Whether I’d vote for him or not, it’ll be really cool for the president to come,” Harries said.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.


gphawk89 5 years, 1 month ago

Questions certainly do abound. Ones like: "Will he still take time to come visit in the immediate wake of a terrorist attack on US soil?"

Daniel Kennamore 5 years, 1 month ago

Why would the political lean of the state matter?

jonas_opines 5 years, 1 month ago

To some, the only details that DO matter are the most superfluous.

Daniel Kennamore 5 years, 1 month ago

Four days is an eternity in political time. No reason to cancel unless something else happens.

PhilChiles 5 years, 1 month ago

What do you want him to do, dust for fingerprints? This is a law enforcement issue. You develop leads and follow them through; even if Obama has to make any decisions, don't worry, I'm pretty sure he gets cell phone coverage out here. I'm guessing he has ways of contacting people.

Steve Jacob 5 years, 1 month ago

And we thought traffic would be bad enough before this.

Frank A Janzen 5 years, 1 month ago

He's coming to Kansas to take Sam Brownback to the woodshed.

jonas_opines 5 years, 1 month ago

How precious, you've started your countdown again.

Did you get a new calendar, or did you just use the same one that you started in 2009? Inquiring minds want to know.

overthemoon 5 years, 1 month ago

So have you passed out of this galaxy yet or are you just hung up in some asteroid field in the outer reaches?

arch007bak 5 years, 1 month ago

Shouldn't that be "Apology Tour 2013" and if so, wouldn't the headliner be Brownback?

jimmyjms 5 years, 1 month ago

Lawrenceguy, don't you have a job or a hobby or something to direct your nonsense at?

CreatureComforts 5 years, 1 month ago

You do realize that when you include his middle name only in an obvious attempt to skew peoples thoughts of him, it only makes YOU look like the fool, right? No? Well, best learn.

Noweigh 5 years, 1 month ago

I thought Teddy Roosevelt came to Lawrence and dedicated the "horse fountain" in South Park when it was located at 9th and New Hampshire(or thereabouts) while he was President. Is that urban legend, the truth or did he do it after his presidency??

fiddleback 5 years, 1 month ago

Yes, and then Woodrow Wilson came to town in 1916. But they were looking more specifically for a POTUS visit to KU, so Hayes could indeed have been the last one. And fortunately, our adorably nostalgic legislature had the foresight to restore our state to its 1879 condition in advance of Obama's visit.

Leslie Swearingen 5 years, 1 month ago

Yep, it is true.

On August 31, 1910, a crowd of 6,000 citizens and visitors attended a formal dedication of the Roosevelt Fountain, the granite display fountain. President Theodore Roosevelt was present at the ceremony, arriving by train at the Santa Fe station in Lawrence. The fountain was originally located at the intersection of New Hampshire and Warren (now Ninth) Streets, because of its proximity to a livery stable.

However, with increasing automobile traffic, the fountain's location soon became unpopular after many dented fenders. The fountain was moved to Robinson Park in 1929, just west of present-day City Hall, with the promise of protection.

In 1965, the Lawrence Flower Club members, celebrating their 40th year, petitioned the city commission and parks department to move the forgotten fountain to a site in South Park. Later, a rose garden was created in South Park by Robert Rankin.

Centerville 5 years, 1 month ago

Just think of the poor intern who's been assigned this research. Ha!

graylanternlizard 5 years, 1 month ago

I vote no for the visit. Let's just save the taxpayers of the city, county, state and the federal government, the money required for an unwanted visit. Really?!?!? Let's try to look at the big picture (governing or should I say NOT governing the United States).

Mike Reid 5 years, 1 month ago

So you think every president should sit in the White House and never leave? Never visit the country he or she leads or speak to people outside of Washington?

jonas_opines 5 years, 1 month ago

@mar21: Nah, if Obama did that they'd just say that he wasn't engaged enough in the people outside of DC.

Bush Derangement Syndrome, Obama Derangement Syndrome. All the same. When you hate somebody, everything that they do is offensive.

CreatureComforts 5 years, 1 month ago

I vote yes for the visit, and my tax money is just as good as yours.

Sue McDaniel 5 years, 1 month ago

No clue why he would come here and since I am NOT a fan hope he doesn't. I would not be interested in seeing him at all and it doesn't sound like most will unless it is a photo op or you are a large donor. Why not a larger venue where all of his fans could see him?

Sunny Parker 5 years, 1 month ago

I wonder if he'll make time for a game of golf while here. What a waste of tax dollars! Stay home Barry Hussein!

fiddleback 5 years, 1 month ago

Yet another oblivious trumpeting of the middle name just like other dead-enders wave the stars and bars...

mom_of_three 5 years, 1 month ago

insert Texas for lawrence and Texas for kansas, and you pretty much have described Bush's last term.

fiddleback 5 years, 1 month ago

If you have no idea why he's coming, how do you judge the need? With KU being the specific setting, he's likely going to talk about dwindling state funding of public universities. In case you hadn't read about it, there is a definite need to avoid the cuts that the legislature is threatening, which would imperil up to 40 faculty positions at KU alone. And as expensive as his traveling is, not only does impactful leadership often entail in-person visits; such travels to advocate practically define the modern presidency.

voevoda 5 years, 1 month ago

lawrenceguy40, sunny, I hope that you are not emphasizing President Obama's middle name, Hussein, because you think that there is something wrong with having an Arabic name. Or being Muslim (although Obama is Christian). That kind of attitude is really offensive to persons who have Arabic names, and those who are Muslim. They include many upstanding citizens of Lawrence, such as our police chief.

oldbaldguy 5 years, 1 month ago

if he is coming, the advance should be in lawrence now.

Russell Fryberger 5 years, 1 month ago

Heck, they're probably reading our emails as we speak.

Russell Fryberger 5 years, 1 month ago

I wonder if we'll need a new KU Chacelor after this visit!

Carol Braden 5 years, 1 month ago

He's not coming. The White House just announced it. Dang.

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