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Indiana Dem leader: Attending State of the Union was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The leading Democrat in the Indiana House of Representatives on Wednesday said there is no experience quite like attending the State of the Union.

House Minority Leader Phil GiaQuinta, D-Fort Wayne, attended Tuesday night’s State of the Union speech at the invitation of Republican Congressman Jim Banks. Although they are from opposing parties, GiaQuinta said he and Banks worked together on several bills when Banks was in the state Senate. Members of Congress are allowed to bring one guest each to the State of the Union, and GiaQuinta had never attended the State of the Union before.

GiaQuinta said he met with Banks early Tuesday evening and went to both parties’ pre-speech receptions. He said the separate receptions differ from how things work in Indianapolis, where state lawmakers mingle regardless of the party during events at the beginning of a session, for example. Besides meeting with Indiana’s Congressional delegation members, GiaQuinta said he ran into Secretary of Transportation, former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

“It was a real opportunity to meet some folks that I don’t always come across as often,” he said, adding he took the opportunity to put in a good word for some projects in need of federal funding.

GiaQuinta said the process of the speech itself was much like State of the State but on a grander scale. He and the other guests went to their seats a little after 8 p.m. He sat two seats away from New York City Mayor Eric Adams, though he didn’t get a chance to say hello. GiaQuinta said it was easy to sense the anticipation in the air. He said it was like finally getting to attend a big sporting event you like to watch on TV.

“You’re like, ‘Am I really here?’” he said. “And then when you’re there, it’s a little bit different.”

During the speech itself, GiaQuinta said he took particular note of President Joe Biden’s comments regarding bipartisanship and encouraging domestic semiconductor manufacturing. Indiana Sen. Todd Young, a Republican, led last year’s legislative effort to do so.

For GiaQuinta, who represents the same district his father once did, attending State of the Union both as a guest and as a sitting elected official is an honor regardless of which party controls the White House. He said if you are ever fortunate enough to be invited to State of the Union, get as much out of the opportunity as you can.

“Take it all in. Meet with as many folks as possible,” he said. “I would advise folks to take a couple days and walk around Washington. It’s something that everyone should be able to take advantage of someday.”

“And if you get a chance, too, maybe even go in and watch the process in the House and Senate.”