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Fallin, Military Offer Obama Gracious Welcome To Oklahoma City

President Obama arrived in Oklahoma City Wednesday evening just a few hours after wrapping up the announcement of a nationwide broadband internet initiative in Durant.

Dozens of men and women in uniform and state officials turned out to greet the president as Air Force One touched down shortly before 8:30 p.m. at Tinker Air Force Base. Once the president stepped off the plane, he made his way toward service members and VIPs and spent about 10 minutes shaking hands.

Airman Mark Gosnell from Charleston, South Carolina said he was thrilled to meet his commander-in-chief.

“He asked me how I was doing, and thanked me for my service, and I told him that it's an honor to serve under you, and thank you for all that you do, and then he moved on,” Gosnell said.

The president then spoke briefly with Gov. Mary Fallin and posed for pictures with her husband Wade Christensen and daughter Christina, before his dozen-vehicle motorcade departed for downtown Oklahoma City.

Fallin said even though she doesn’t always agree with Obama, it’s always an honor to be visited by a sitting president. Fallin said she thanked him for several executive actions, including federal disaster aid to rebuild and recover from May and June's devastating storms.

“We have so many counties that were affected, homeowners, and certainly even our infrastructure in our state, with the roads and bridges that were affected. [The Federal Emergency Management Agency] has been very good to approve our applications quickly,” Fallin said.

Fallin also told President Obama she appreciated last week's extension of federal funding for the Insure Oklahoma program that provides health coverage to nearly 18,000 Oklahomans.

When asked to comment on the broadband initiative or the criminal justice proposal he’ll lay out Thursday in El Reno, Fallin said she hadn’t seen details of either plan yet since the president only just unveiled them. But she did say she supports better connectivity for schools and underprivileged communities.

Fallin also told key White House advisor Valarie Jarrett she wants the state to be tough on crime, while still providing treatment to Oklahomans who need it.

“I told him we’ve been trying to fund more of our mental health and substance abuse services in our state to keep people hopefully out of our correctional facilities, keep our families together, and get them back into the workforce and get them the help that they need,” Fallin said.

U.S. Sen. James Lankford said he welcomes President Obama to the conversation regarding broadband internet expansion and economic development for native American tribes, as well as criminal justice issues.

“Our federal prison and law enforcement employees do outstanding work carrying out justice and keeping our communities safe, yet their contribution to society often goes largely unnoticed,” Lankford said in a statement. “Our nation must be firm and clear on the consequences for crime, but if we can promote redemption, while reducing incarceration overspending and waste, then we should have that conversation.”

But Lankford’s colleague, senior U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe, offered sharper words to President Obama regarding his visit to the federal prison in El Reno and broader issues of border security.

“I hope he will address the most pressing issue in criminal justice reform, which is the 347,000 convicted criminal immigrants living in our communities today,” Inhofe said in a statement. “This is happening not only because of a porous border, but also because current immigration policy simply releases into our neighborhoods criminal immigrants whose countries of origin will not accept their deportation. President Obama has done nothing in his six years in office to resolve – much less discuss — this alarming loop hole in the criminal justice system.”

Several protesters also voiced displeasure with the president’s visit through controversial symbolism that’s become a political lightning rod since the June 17 church shooting in Charleston, South Carolina. Demonstrators waving Confederate flags stood near the high school in Durant where Obama delivered his broadband address.

Several people waving the flag were also spotted outside the Oklahoma City hotel where Obama stayed.

Fallin said she was aware of the Confederate flag-waving protesters in Durant, but said her understanding was many of them were not from Oklahoma.

KGOU produces journalism in the public interest, essential to an informed electorate. Help support informative, in-depth journalism with a donation online, or contact our Membership department.

Brian Hardzinski is from Flower Mound, Texas and a graduate of the University of Oklahoma. He began his career at KGOU as a student intern, joining KGOU full time in 2009 as Operations and Public Service Announcement Director. He began regularly hosting Morning Edition in 2014, and became the station's first Digital News Editor in 2015-16. Brian’s work at KGOU has been honored by Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI), the Oklahoma Association of Broadcasters, the Oklahoma Associated Press Broadcasters, and local and regional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists. Brian enjoys competing in triathlons, distance running, playing tennis, and entertaining his rambunctious Boston Terrier, Bucky.
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