While students at Troy High School moved through their daily routine yesterday, Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama held a town hall meeting in the gym where the school’s basketball team normally holds practice.
During the Illinois senator’s quick trip to Michigan, two of the state’s superdelegates also confirmed their support of his candidacy.
The visit was only Obama’s second to Michigan during the primary season. He didn’t campaign in the state after Michigan was stripped of its delegates to the party’s national convention for moving up the date of its primary – a violation of party rules.
Obama’s appearance in Troy came just two days after the Democratic National Committee’s Rules Committee finally voted to seat the state’s 128 delegates, but cut Michigan’s voting power in half.
Southfield Mayor Brenda Lawrence, who introduced the senator before a crowd of more than 1,000 at the meeting, said Obama could count on her half-vote at the Democratic National Convention, which is set for the last week of August.
“I’m honored to tell you today that I am committed,” Lawrence said. “What we need is a unified party, and with my superdelegate vote, we’re going to get the job done and get the leadership that this country so desperately needs.”
Michigan Education Association President Lu Battaglieri, a fellow superdelegate, also announced his promise to back Obama early yesterday morning.
The two endorsements help Obama inch closer to the 33.5 delegates he still needs to clinch the Democratic nomination and with a total of 47 delegates up for grabs today, the Montana and South Dakota primaries could finally push Obama past the mark.
Locals hoping to see the potential Democratic nominee started lining up at 8:30 a.m yesterday, and by 10 a.m., the line was wrapped around the high school parking lot.
When Obama finally took center stage at 12:35 p.m., he was greeted with a standing ovation from a crowd of supporters who donned his likeness on T-shirts, stickers and buttons.
Among those who wore a sticker to show support at yesterday’s event was recent Oakland University graduate Joshua Miller. Miller was chosen from the crowd by Senator Obama to ask a question during the town hall meeting.
The recent graduate has plans to attend law school at the University of Maryland in the fall, and he was concerned about the rising costs of higher education. Miller asked Obama about his plans to make college more affordable.
“First of all, I want to expand the Pell grant program,” Obama said. “That program helps those who need it most.”
The senator said he would increase the value of Pell grants currently offered by the federal government and added that he would create new eligibility requirements for the program so that more students could qualify for funding.
Obama also said he has plans to lower interest rates on student loans.
“Part of the way to do that is to eliminate the middle man,” Obama said.
Standing before a group of college-bound high school students, the senator explained that banks and lending companies often make hefty profits from student loans. If elected as president, Obama said that was something he would change.
“You shouldn’t be giving them a profit,” Obama said to the students. “Let’s take that million dollars away, and let’s fix that before we raise tuition.”
The third piece of Obama’s plan to cut the costs of higher education is to give every student an annual $4,000 credit to help pay for tuition. He said that the credit would be enough to pay for about two-thirds of the cost of education at a public college or university.
To qualify for the credit, students would have to fulfill a national service requirement, which Obama said could be completed in a variety of ways.
“You can do it while you’re in school, or you can do it after school,” Obama said. “You can join the Peace Corps, or you can decide you’re going to teach at an underserved school in a subject like math or science.”
Obama said other ways to complete the community service requirement included volunteering at a homeless shelter or working as a nurse or doctor in a part of the country with a shortage in the number of health care professionals.
The Illinois senator also said he would also try to control the increased costs and unnecessary spending associated with higher education. If elected, he said he would make plans to meet with university presidents from across the country to figure out what’s contributing to rising tuition prices.
Though he said that a lack of reliable state funding was part of the problem, he also said that some financial issues have to do with the fiscal responsibility of individual colleges and universities.
“Some of their costs they can’t control, like health care costs, but sometimes they’re building fancy student centers or new athletic facilities,” Obama said. “And maybe they just don’t need that right now. What they need do is to buy books and computers and to try and keep tuition costs down.”