Obama gets couple off the political sidelines
A Seattle couple has made a project of boosting Obama.
Seattle Times staff columnist
When President Obama spoke at the Paramount Theatre last week, Leo and Cynthia Henton were there.
They wouldn't miss him. The Seattle couple always vote, but that was about the extent of their political involvement until Obama came along.
"We're Obama groupies," she said with a chuckle after the event.
They've been writing checks and paying to attend Obama events since he began his first run for president. I was curious what got a couple of middle-aged, middle-income folks off the political sidelines.
We talked about that at their home in Rainier Beach on Thursday evening.
Leo is a configuration management engineer with Boeing on the defense side, and Cynthia teaches seventh-grade math at South Shore School.
They met online in 2005, when both were in their late 40s, and married in 2007.
Obama came through Seattle in November 2006, and Leo saw him speak on the Seattle Channel. The audience was chanting, "run, run, run," he said. Obama told them that everybody in the other Washington is tied up in rhetoric, but leaders should gather facts, do analyses and make decisions based on the intersection between reality and their goals.
Sounds like Leo's job.
Leo, who has an MBA, too, said leadership is also about having an emotional connection to people. Leo mentioned the 16 personality types some tests measure and said he believes Obama understands them all. "I said to myself, 'this fellow really has a good head on his shoulders. He's really going places.' "
When Leo heard Obama announce his candidacy in February 2007, he calculated Obama's chances of winning. The odds weren't great, but maybe a little help could change that.
He bought a DVD recorder and made copies of the speech — eventually 4,500 copies — which he and Cynthia handed out in restaurants and in meetings they initiated.
They both believe ordinary people can make a difference.
Leo traces his convictions back to his father and to a high-school teacher.
He grew up in Butte, Mont. His dad was known for being open-minded, and he likes to see himself that way.
He recalls seeing a black man in a store when he was about 5 and asking his father who that was. His dad remarked only on the uniform. That man is in the Air Force, he said.
Leo, who's 54, watched images of the Vietnam War on TV.
"Lots of those fellows were Latino or black," he said, and it puzzled him that they were fighting for freedom over there at the same time TV brought images of the struggle for civil rights in this country.
His dad was a mining engineer, and they moved around when Leo was in high school, Utah, West Virginia. In the coal-mining town of Price, Utah, a teacher showed students photographs of lynchings of blacks that had happened in the town. That class was the beginning of his appreciation of the importance of politics.
Cynthia grew up in Spokane, where her father was the first African-American teacher.
He insisted the family watch the evening news together every day, and he subscribed to The Seattle Times. She grew up knowing what was happening in the world and committed to voting, but hadn't gotten more involved until Obama. She also grew up thinking it absurd to dislike people because of their color, something especially obvious to an African American with albinism.
Both say they can personally relate to Obama partly because he rose from modest beginnings. They believe Obama wants more Americans to have a chance to live the best life they can.
The buzz Thursday was about Obama finally saying he supports marriage for same-sex couples. The Hentons approve.
Leo said his mother had a good friend who lived with her partner, so he never thought it was wrong, though he knew other people did. "Is there someone out there," he asks, "who can argue that there is too much csommitted love in the world?"
Obama was only the second presidential candidate Leo has contributed to. He gave to McCain in the 2000 primary. He said he goes for whoever makes the most sense at the time. In 1992, he voted for Ross Perot.
"Obama is a centrist," Leo said. For instance, he said, Obamacare is essentially the plan Republican Sen. Bob Dole pushed in 1993. He wishes Obama would do more to rein in "the banksters" (a label he borrowed from Seattle Times economics columnist and blogger Jon Talton), and neither of them is crazy about Obama's Race to the Top education policy, but they trust him on most issues.
Thursday, the Hentons were both wearing T-shirts from Obama's 50th-birthday celebration last summer. They had flown to Chicago to attend, and sat in the front row.
Leo said he yelled out twice, "Seattle's with you, president," and he's sure Obama nodded at him.
Jerry Large's column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or email@example.com. Twitter @jerrylarge.
About Jerry Large
I try to write about the intersections of everyday life and big issues. I like to invite readers to think a little differently. The topics I choose represent the things in which I take an interest, and I try to deal with them the way most folks would, sometimes seriously, sometimes with a sense of humor. My column runs Mondays and Thursdays.
firstname.lastname@example.org | 206-464-3346