Harbaugh among State of Union guests of Mich. lawmakers

Melissa Nann Burke
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — University of Michigan football coach Jim Harbaugh and his wife, Sarah, will be the guests of U.S. Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, and Justin Amash, R-Cascade Township, at President Barack Obama’s last State of the Union speech next week, according to delegation reports.

Harbaugh led the revival of the UM’s team this season, posting a 10-3 record after the squad went 5-7 a year earlier and producing a 41-7 thrashing of the University of Florida in the Citrus Bowl during his first year as head coach.

He previously coached the San Francisco 49ers to a Super Bowl appearance and Stanford University team to a No. 4 national ranking in 2010.

The popular coach, who returned to UM where he played quarterback in the early 1980s, has attracted national media attention and returned the Wolverines to prominence in a state where Mark Dantonio’s Michigan State University Spartans have dominated for much of the past decade.

Each member of Congress is allowed to bring one guest to the State of the Union, where they sit in reserved seats in the House gallery. The names of guests had to be submitted a week in advance for security clearance.

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, is bringing Sarah Hekmati of Flushing — the sister of 32-year-old Amir Hekmati, a former Marine who has been imprisoned by Iran for four and a half years.

Kildee this week called on Obama to mention Amir Hekmati by name during his Tuesday address, as well as those of the other U.S. citizens imprisoned or missing in Iran: Pastor Saeed Abedini of Boise, Idaho; Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian of Marin County, California; and former FBI agent Robert Levinson, who disappeared eight years ago from the resort island of Kish.

“Our singular goal is to bring Amir home, and anything that we can do that continues to keep his name and his case in the public conversation is important to our mission,” Kildee said Friday.

“One of the fears that the family has had is that his name and his case fade, and is no longer a part of the daily national conversation. If we’re going to get Amir and, frankly, the other Americans home, we can not let that happen.”

Last year, Kildee left his guest seat at the State of the Union empty to symbolize Amir’s continued imprisonment in Iran.

Hekmati, born in Arizona and raised in Michigan, traveled to Iran to visit his grandmothers in 2011 and was arrested, tried and sentenced him to death for spying. The sentence was later tossed in lieu of a 10-year prison sentence. U.S. officials have repeatedly denied Hekmati is a spy.

“For us, it’s very emotional and painful. I hear the anguish in Amir’s voice when he is allowed to call. He is tired. Our family is drained,” Sarah Hekmati said in an interview.

“One of my biggest fears is that this is something that doesn’t get resolved and gets passed on to the next administration. We’re praying that’s not the case.”

Other guests of the Michigan delegation include Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, who is attending as the guest of Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, in part to highlight Worthy’s work to help combat gun violence in Detroit.

“You choose someone who is reflective of the progress of America,” Lawrence said. “She has just been an amazing leader over 32 years as a prosecutor.”

Sen. Gary Peters, D-Bloomfield Township, is hosting Hassan Jaber, executive director of ACCESS, the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services, which supports Arab immigrants through social, economic and educational services.

“While our nation’s security should always be our first priority, I am deeply concerned with the heightened political rhetoric directed at refugees, particularly those from Syria and Iraq, who are fleeing ISIS,” Peters, a member of the Senate Homeland Security Committee, said in a statement.

Jaber says anti-refugee rhetoric has caused major concern in the community, as well as a sense of betrayal.

Immigrants “really are adding to what we stand for as a nation, which is hard work and entrepreneurship,” Jaber said. “This debate is a scary debate, and out of our nature as a nation.”

Rep. Bill Huizenga, R-Zeeland, is bringing James Carmondy, the director of police and fire services for Wyoming, Kent County. Carmondy is a supporter of the federal program that donates surplus military equipment to police who criticized the Obama administration when it recalled some gear deemed too militaristic for local law enforcement agencies.

“In the district, he was rallying the messaging a bit and leading the charge,” Huizenga said. “These are men and women who literally put their lives on the line every day. We’ll get to not just talk about the policy issues but what they do on a daily basis.”

Rep. Fred Upton, R-St. Joseph, has invited longtime medical research and patient advocate Patrick White, who is president of the advocacy group Act for NIH, which presses for more biomedical-research funding for the National Institutes of Health, Upton spokesman Tom Wilbur said.

Rep. Mike Bishop, R-Rochester, invited Greg Clevenger, his history teacher at Rochester Adams High School who inspired Bishop to go on to major in history at the University of Michigan.

U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Lansing, will be accompanied by Michigan State University student Tina Reyes.

mburke@detroitnews.com

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