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Obama Town Hall: Small banks and love-struck teachers with pink slips

March 18, 2009 |  4:54 pm

Democratic President Barack Obama at a townhall meeting in Costa Mesa California

Orange County has always been a place where entrepreneurs go to get rich, or go after they get rich, so a question from a woman who works in a local bank that makes small business loans was not surprising.

She wanted to know whether President Obama could essentially get regulators off her back so she can make the loans her community needs. (She does not work for a bad bank, she hastened to add, nor has her bank accepted federal bailout funds.)

Obama told her she made "an excellent point," then recapitulated her somewhat complicated question for the audience. "A lot of smaller banks that did not act irresponsibly, that were not involved in some of the weird financial instruments that didn't work ... that are not paying out $100 million bonuses. You don't look like you got a $5-million bonus," he said to her. (Ouch, that was awkward. He didn't mean it that way.)

He told her the White House has just announced a program that will allow the Treasury to buy loans directly from community banks to free up capital so they can make small business loans again. He directed her to the White House website for more information.

Someone asked about illegal immigration, but this is the moment our TV channel went to commercial, so all we can tell you is he seemed to be reiterating his oft-stated position that border security is important but dealing with illegal immigrants who are already here has to be done "in a humane way."

When it was time for the next question, Obama said: "It's a girl's turn; it's a lady's turn." No one spoke.

"Somebody with a mike, just go find somebody," he said.

A teacher from Santa Ana said she got her "RIF notice." (That's a "reduction in force" notice.)

Obama: "A pink slip!"

Teacher: "I'm so nervous. Thank you for coming."

Obama: "You're doing great."

Teacher: "I just love you."

She calmed herself long enough to ask how he planned to retain good teachers, given the fact that in her district, the teacher of the year just got pink slipped too.

Obama assured her there is money going to the states for teacher retention, school construction and innovation. "But," he said, "the biggest chunk is for teacher retention."

He mentioned that "your school superintendent is here." Maybe it was for the best that he did not mention California Superintendent of Schools Jack O'Connell by name, since the crowd erupted in scattered boos.

-- Robin Abcarian

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Photo: Bryan Chan / Los Angeles Times