While his to-do list may have been stymied by party politics, local lawmakers say President Barack Obama forged his own path in office.
He pulled the U.S. out of difficult financial times and expanded health care coverage, Sen. John Matthews said.
Obama also gave minorities hope that there are no dreams and goals beyond their reach, Matthews said. “It might be hard to do, but it’s possible and that gives people hope.”
Obama will leave the White House on Friday after two terms in office.
Local lawmakers say he moved the country forward in the areas of health, economics and the environment. They hope the progress will continue after he’s gone.
Obama “will be remembered for doing a lot of things, but think one of the top four would be saving this country from going into a great depression,” Matthews said.
Matthews, D-Bowman, referred to the recession of 2008, a period of sharp economic decline which has been described as the worst economic period since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
“I think the second thing he will be noted for is saving the automobile industry, with the third thing being that he provided a safety net for the least of these by providing good health care for millions of Americans that did not have health care before,” Matthews said.
The Affordable Care Act, also referred to as Obamacare, has provided roughly 20 million adults with insurance.
“Finally, I think he’ll always get high marks for his example as president. There were no great scandals. He was a great example for families of America, so I think that example would be published as a lasting legacy,” Matthews said.
Matthews said he is concerned whether the election of Republican Donald Trump as president and a GOP-controlled Congress will carry forward Obama’s policies.
“I think once the president gets in office, the difference between rhetoric and reality will set in. I hope that they can look out for the best interest of all Americans,” he said.
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, said, “Under the president’s leadership, we’ve created jobs, rescued the auto industry and rebuilt the economy, led the fight to ensure equality for all Americans and made a historic commitment to protecting the environment and addressing the impact of climate change.”
Cobb-Hunter said history will be the ultimate judge of Obama’s legacy.
“In my opinion, however, President Obama will be viewed as a transformative leader who refocused and reaffirmed American leadership in the world and made affordable health care a reality,” she said.
Cobb-Hunter has concerns about the incoming administration.
“I am concerned about the capacity of the incoming administration to govern and their apparent inability to get out of the campaign mode. For the country’s sake, I am hopeful that President-elect Trump and his team are successful in mastering the steep learning curve they face,” Cobb-Hunter said.
Rep. Justin Bamberg, D-Bamberg, said while Obama’s election as the first black president will resonate “for years to come,” there are some other aspects of his tenure that were equally impressive.
“The other aspect of his presidency is the manner in which not only he carried himself, but his family during the course of eight years. It’s quite frankly impeccable: the grace and the manner in which he spoke to people, including those that refused to work with him for political for personal reasons,” Bamberg said. “I truly do admire that about him.”
Obama’s efforts to pass the Affordable Care Act are noteworthy and will definitely be part of his lasting legacy, Bamberg said.
“It’s truly amazing that despite the borderline government shutdown and the majority of the Congressional Republicans refusing to ever work with him, he still managed to get so much accomplished from the creation of jobs in this country to the efforts and the work that was done to combat the new-age great depression we went through,” Bamberg said.
Bamberg is concerned Obama’s efforts in the areas of health care and criminal justice will be scrapped under the new administration.
“With one stroke of a pen, the new majority and the White House can undo what’s taken eight years to do,” Bamberg said.
He added, “It’s a very scary thought but with that said, I’m not looking at what Donald Trump campaigned on. I will respect him and give his administration a fair chance to allow their actions –- and not their words -– to cause me to believe that they will do a good job or not.”
Sen. Brad Hutto, D-Orangeburg, said while Obama’s election as the first black president was historic, his ability to steer the country out of a recession, including salvaging the auto industry, was among his other noteworthy accomplishments.
“He inherited a terrible economic situation, and he was instrumental in taking some bold steps to put people back to work and injecting money back into the economy to make sure that we didn’t lose automotive jobs,” Hutto said.
“He started off at a time that was very challenging and led us back to economic prosperity. I think we’re going to look back on his presidency and remember that he led us at a very trying time when we were at war and the economy was in worse shape than it has been other than the Great Depression,” he said.
Hutto said Obama was also the only president to pass a law addressing the nation’s health care challenges.
“A lot of people had tried and talked about it, but he actually is the one that got that done. It’s not perfect and improvements have to be made, but we’ve made steps in the right direction on health care,” Hutto said.
The legislator also admired how Obama and his family represented themselves during their time at the White House.
“I don’t think anybody can criticize the way that they’ve represented his country,” he said.
Hutto hopes the new administration will spend more time building upon rather than dismantling Obama’s health care legacy.
“The people have spoken. Trump is the president and we have to accept that and move forward. That’s part of life in America. We go in four-year increments and if that doesn’t work, there will be a correction in four years,” he said. “I hope for the best during this time.”
Rep. Jerry Govan, D-Orangeburg, said Obama’s election as president was just one way he changed America.
Considering the opposition he faced, that he was elected a second time speaks volumes about his legacy, Govan said.
“It exceeded everyone’s wildest imagination, and he deserved it because he worked hard,” Govan said. “In spite of the fact that his policies did not please everyone, I think he was elected to a second term based on the merit of where he had brought the country from.”
Obama’s achievements in bringing the country back from financial collapse, while navigating the country through war and trying to provide everyone with access to affordable health care were commendable, he said.
Govan also noted the integrity and grace Obama and his family conducted themselves with during his presidency.
“The Obamas were an excellent first family,” he said.
Govan noted that he has concerns about the incoming administration, particularly as the parent of a military servicewoman.
“My only concern is that the president-elect seems to have a penchant – at least at this point – for changing the rules. I just think that we have to have consistency. We need someone that can bring this country together because the country is still divided,” Govan said. “My hope is that we don’t all of a sudden want to change the rules to try to accommodate the party in power and sacrifice those values that are so important in American politics.”
Rep. Russell Ott, D-St. Matthews, said it is ironic how much the country has divided from the time when Obama was first elected. He is hopeful about the future.
“I think what I’m most proud of with President Obama – and his entire family – is that he showed us what a good family structure looks like and consists of. He basically was an unbelievable role model for our youth,” Ott said.
He added, “For me, his legacy is going to be his willingness to tackle the big problems and issues.” That includes the capture and killing of 9-11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden, the crafting of the Affordable Care Act and leading the country out of financial crisis.
Ott is hopeful that the incoming administration will help to solve the nation’s biggest challenges with more than just “little tweets and making disparaging remarks about other people.”
“If we’re going to fix our problems, it’s truly going to take a leader willing to sit down at the table and bring people together and listen to different ideas from different backgrounds, and then try to put together something that works for the vast majority of Americans,” he said.
“The bottom line is I have major concerns about the way Trump is approaching a lot of his decisions that he has been making up until this point, but he is going to be everyone’s president and we need to be supporting and rooting for him because his successes will be all of our successes, and his failures will be all of our failures,” he said.
“I’m hoping the very best for him and I’m going to support him in any way I can, but if I see him doing things or making decisions that I don’t agree with, then I’m going to call him out on it,” Ott said. “That is what democracy is all about.”