A Seat Behind The President

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Chip Coenen, Community First CU VP of Business Development, got even better than a front row seat during a visit by President George Bush to his community last Tuesday.

Coenen was among a handful of business leaders chosen by the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce in Appleton who joined Bush onstage during an address to 2,000 entrepreneurs at the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center.

"It was surprise that he came to our community, which is not a big metropolitan area, rather than Milwaukee or Madison," Coenen said, noting that word of the visit came late last week.

While the visit was deemed "official'' by the White House, which means taxpayers rather than the Bush campaign pick up the tab, it's clear that the Midwest is important to the upcoming Presidential election.

"Wisconsin is a swing state,'' Coenen said. "President Bush is obviously focusing some attention (here).''

Coenen, who was joined by diverse group of business leaders, said he was seated in the front row of a section to Bush's left as he talked about his policies to strengthen the economy, help small businesses create jobs and keep taxes from increasing. Bush also spoke of Iraq, 9/11, the recession and the stock market decline.

"I certainly had a great sense of pride (sitting onstage)," Coenen said, adding that he followed all of the directives given to the group prior to the speech. "When we were in the Green Room, we were told 'Stand up straight, don't put your hands in your pockets, don't bring in cameras and don't ask for autographs.' "

After Bush spoke, he turned to the group gathered onstage and approached each in the front row.

"When he got to me we shook hands and he said, "Well, you got one of the best seats in the house, huh?' " Coenen said, adding that he responded with a chuckle and a "thank you" for all the President's efforts for the country. "And I told him we really appreciated his time to come to our community."

Coenen said there was no time to bring up any CU issues.

"I didn't think it was appropriate to lobby him at that point," he said. "Besides, from a state legislative affairs perspective, we do a very good job getting our message across to congressmen and senators."

Coenen said his brother, who did get a front row seat, got several photos of the two shaking hands.

Coenen, who was also interviewed by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel directly following the speech, said Bush "spoke from the heart." "No matter which side of the fence an individual is on, it was an important visit," Coenen said. "It really unified the community."

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