Senior White House Correspondent Major Garrett spoke by phone earlier today to Jeffrey Baker, the man behind the Buffalo billboard that reads: "Mr. President, I Need a Freakin Job."
The White House touted today's visit as a way to explain the "tough choice" President Obama has made to deal with the recession and turn the U.S. economy around. Baker told Fox neither he nor many others in Buffalo feel things are improving. Their sentiments are reinforced by an April Marist Poll that shows 59% of respondents in upstate New York believe the economy is getting worse, while only 11% believe it's getting better.
On the flight to Buffalo today, Deputy White House Press Secretary Bill Burton, a Buffalo native, addressed Baker's billboard.
"The President is here to talk about jobs, what his administration has done to create jobs, what we need to do in order to create an environment where small businesses can create jobs," Burton said. "So the answer is, we're on the path to creating more jobs, and we've got a lot more work to do."
In fact, the President never saw Baker's billboard. According to reporters traveling with the President, his motorcade never drove past it, either coming or going from the Buffalo International Airport.
Here is Baker's interview.
Q: Is the billboard directed at the president or all politicians?
A: It's been in the works for about 6 months and we're really trying to direct the national attention back to the idea of job creation and the economy. We were scheduled to launch the billboard on May 10 and that was the night before The Buffalo News broke the story that the president was actually coming to town this Thursday. So, it actually ended up making us look a lot smarter than we are.
Q: What is your message to the president?
A: What we were hoping to be able to do was at least to grab the attention of the president. Listening to the radio on my way downtown this morning, you listen to the itinerary and basically, he drives into Buffalo, they clear the streets, he drives to one company that has been fortunate enough to do well, does a little press conference and then he leaves town. What our point was is that we need to talk to the folks with the boots on the ground, the little guys that have the 5-10-15 and 30 employees that are struggling day-to-day...and just the overwhelming difficulty in the country of everybody looking for (work)
Q: Are you in that category?
A: I definitely fit into that category. My story is simple. I was a business owner for over 10 years. I owned a small company called Adirondack Blanket Works which was a manufacturing company. Unfortunately, our business after 10 years got caught in the financial collapse and basically we were forced out of business. In the meantime, you're trying to re-find your direction and, you know, re-establish your confidence as a person and a small business owner, we decided to really create a message that tried to refocus the attention of both the administration and the rest of the country.
Q: The administration says the economy is picking up and last month's job growth is a sign. I gather you don't feel that way.
A: That's me and of course a number of people that I know. Our sign means no disrespect in any way shape or form to the president. We applaud the efforts. However, I feel as if there could be greater effort. If you're going to put together, you know, some forums where you're going to really take a look at gathering people together for the unemployment issues, maybe not so much (talk about) the big conglomerates out there but, really, 75% of the jobs are provided in the US through small businesses. And I would certainly like to see more effort (there). In other words, often the best solution comes from the most unlikely sources.
Q: What would you like to say directly to the president?
A: Let's think out of the box. The entrepreneurs and small business owners in the US are some of the most creative resourceful people that the country has ever had. We're completely used to overachieving our goals with less than perfect conditions. If jobs aren't something that the American people can rally behind - i realize that we're a very divided country right now - but jobs should be center point where all the American people can really rally behind. My one suggestion would be to look at unlikely sources for potential creative solutions in a way of really getting some policy together to help us grow the private sector.
Q: Do you favor tax cuts or more government spending for job creation?
A: From a small business perspective, of course, tax cuts would be beneficial, extremely beneficial. As far as additional government spending, we really, really need to stop spending money that only adds to the tax burden to small businesses, large businesses and individuals. That would be the way I would approach it. Some tax cuts and really we've got to start curbing government spending.
Q: Do you consider yourself or your billboard partisan?
A: Not at all. What I like to think of is we were very, very careful not to draw political lines either on our website or our movement or anything having to do with it. We really felt as if jobs was simply a good enough subject to rally everybody of every persuasion behind - regardless of your political persuasion. We all need to pay our bills. We need to raise our kids. So we've really been very very careful not to take a partisan approach to any of this.
Q: How much did the billboard cost and how long will it stay up?
A: Unfortunately, I'm the one who needs the job. The fortunate part is my brother has a job. So my brother, Scott Baker, is actually the one who paid for the billboard. The billboard cost approximately $5,000 for a month. We booked it for a 30-day period.
Q: Has it prompted phone calls with job leads?
A: Not as far as a job offer is concerned, but certainly it has had a large impact on our website. And if you were to look at our Facebook page connected to our website it's a clear indication that's the folks on the street, they're getting on there, every body's got a story. Every body's saying "Thank You" and "It's about time someone addressed this issue from a common sense perspective." Each and every individual has their own story to tell having to do with their personal job situation.