Local democrats and republicans react to President Obama's State of the Union Address

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(WBIR) For more than an hour, President Obama addressed the American people Tuesday night and made clear he's not afraid to use his executives powers.

During his State of the Union Address, President Obama said, "Wherever and whenever I can take steps without legislation to expand opportunity to more American families, that's what I'm going to do."

That statement and several similar ones sparked a debate.

"That's pretty unusual for a president to do that and to get away with it," said Susan Richardson Williams, former chair of the TN Republican Party.,

"The previous president used executive measures many times. This president has hardly used that at all," said Linda Haney, Chair of the Knox County Democratic Party.

The use of executive orders wasn't the only topic Richardson Williams and Haney dispute. Among them was the president's push to raise the federal minimum wage.

President Obama said Tuesday, "The federal minimum wage is worth about 20 percent less than it was when Ronald Reagan first stood here. Tom Harkin and George Miller have a bill to fix that by lifting the minimum wage to $10.10. This will help families. It will give businesses customers with more money to spend."

"Raising the minimum wage is something that is great for the economy. When people make more money they can take care of their families. They can buy more products," Haney said.

"There is no question that everybody would like to see a higher minimum wage. When you talk about raising the minimum wage to $10.10 for everyone then it becomes a matter of can small businesses afford to do this," said Richardson Williams.

Tuesday, President Obama talked about reforming unemployment benefits and issued a challenge to Congress saying, "This Congress needs to restore the unemployment insurance you just let expire for 1.6 million people."

"Unemployment benefits were extremely necessary in past three or four years. Now, how long do you extend it?" asked Richardson Williams.

"People on unemployment are not lazy people. They are people who need to keep going until they can find a job," said Haney.

President Obama also tackled the topic of education and said Tennessee's Race to the Top is an example of what other states can do to improve academic achievement. It was one topic where Richardson Williams and Haney agreed.

"I totally agree with him about early education. All of these opinions that early education does not make a difference, they're wrong. They're absolutely wrong," said Haney.

"I was thrilled to hear that. I think we all were as Tennesseans. We know that our state has really stepped up to be a leader in education reform," Richardson Williams said.

Thursday, President Obama is scheduled to speak at McGavock High school. His visit is two days after an accidental shooting killed one student. Police say two students, both friends, were at an apartment Tuesday night. One of them was playing with a gun when it fired and killed the other student. He is facing charges. The school considered canceling the president's visit, but figured it would be unfair to the other students.

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