Some call it Bush's finest speech; others say it wasn't worth their time.

Although much of the spotlight has been taken off the president during his final year in office, area politicos paid close attention to his State of the Union address.


President George W. Bush touched on several domestic issues Monday night before emphasizing the importance of fighting terrorism and calling on Congress to renew funding for the war in Iraq.


Rep. Ray LaHood, R-Peoria, was impressed with the speech.


"I think the president’s speech tonight was certainly as good as any speech he’s ever given, and possibly a little better," he said.


LaHood has a tradition of sitting next to Bob Michel, the former congressman he replaced 14 years ago, in the House chamber during the speech.


"To start off his last speech with the idea that he has already brokered a bipartisan tax package with the American people, I think that goes down in history," he said.


LaHood also noted the speech contained many new themes that were different than Bush’s previous State of the Union addresses.


"If there were new subjects this year, they were fiscal responsibility, balancing the budget and earmark reform," he said.


Rudy Lewis, chairman of the Peoria County Republican Central Committee, cautioned that many of the proposed programs would be difficult to get passed in Congress.


"With a year left to go, it’s going to be very difficult to get everything done," he said. "I see a lot of money that’s going to have to be put in the federal government to get these programs going."


Craig Curtis, an associate professor of political science at Bradley University, said he was disappointed with how Bush rehashed old issues such as providing school choice for children at inner city schools — issues he claims are "divisive" and do little to support the "bipartisan" rhetoric during the speech.


"There was no point to bring up vouchers which he knows divides the country and divides the parties," said Curtis, a professor at Bradley since 1991. ‘It destroys all your efforts to work in a bipartisan way when you bring up a wedge issue.’


Billy Halstead, chairman for the Peoria County Democratic Party, disagreed with the president’s tax proposal.


"With the recession and the housing market, I don’t know how you can keep these tax cuts for the wealthiest people in the nation," he said.


While much of the focus has been taken off Bush with the current primary races, Halstead said the president needs to be responsible for taking the country in a different direction.


"Even though he’s a lame duck, he’s still the guy in charge," he said.


Doug Stephens, a former U.S. congressional candidate, said many Democrats probably decided not to watch the speech.


"He still is my president, and I do respect that," Stephens said. "However, I dislike this president more than any in my lifetime and when he comes on the TV, I flip the channel."


Mike Maciag can be reached at (309) 686-3251 or John Sharp contributed to this story.