Roy James is the plant manager at a lumber mill in Vicksburg, Mississippi. He will be among the 13 guests of President Trump’s at the State of the Union Address on February 5. The White House released President Trump’s guest list ahead of the State of the Union address, writing, in a press release, that all of this year’s guests represent “the very best of the America.” The press release reads, in part, “this year’s guests come from all different walks of life, and each has an incredible story to tell. No matter their background, each one has something important in common: They represent the very best of America.”
Here’s what you need to know about Roy James:
1. He Lost His Job When the Lumber Mill Closed, but Was Soon Re-Hired to Over-See the Facility
Roy James is the plant manager at the Vicksburg Forest Products lumber facility. James spent 26 years working at the sawmill, eventually rising to be the vice president of operations. But then, he was told that the facility would be shuttered and that he would lose his job. Then, in 2018, Vicksburg was designated an “Opportunity Zone,” which led to a new owner buying the sawmill and re-opening it. The new owner hired James as the overseer of the whole facility.
2. HUD Secretary Ben Carson Visited His Plant Last Year
Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson toured the sawmill in December, after it was re-opened as the Vicksburg Forest Products lumber facility. Previously, the sawmill was called the Anderson-Tully mill, and specialized in hardwood. But the owners of the Anderson-Tully mill decided to shut down their operations, in a move that would have left Roy James and many others out of a job.
In 2017, Vicksburg was designated an “opportunity zone,” and a new owner bought the sawmill, renaming it the Vicksburg Forest Products lumber facility. The new owners decided to focus on southern pine, and said they would hire 125 additional workers for the plant.
3. The Trump Administration Says James’ Mill Is an Example of How Tax Cuts Can Create Economic Opportunities
The White House says that Roy James represents “the very best of America.” The Trump administration also touts the sawmill where James works as a success story, which it says grows out of the administration’s 2017 tax cut bill. That bill designated some areas of the country — including the area where the sawmill is located — “opportunity zones.” Opportunity zones give investors a tax break — by allowing them to reinvest capital gains and put off capital gains taxes by up to a decade — in return for investing in specially designated low income census tracts.The investors who bought what’s now the Vicksburg Forest Products lumber facility took advantage of the program when they bought the sawmill.
The sawmill where James works was originally called the Anderson-Tully mill, and specialized in hardwood. James worked there for 26 years, eventually rising to the rank of vice president. He was prepared to lose its job when the owners announced they were shuttering the facility, but then the plant was bought and re-opened as the Vicksburg Forest Products lumber facility. James was hired as plant manager.
4. Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant Said James’ Invitation Is an ‘Honor’ for the State
After the White House announced that Roy James would be one of President Trump’s guests at the State of the Union address, the governor of Mississippi praised the invitation. The governor, Phil Bryant, said that the invitation was “a great honor for Mr. James and Mississippi.”
Governor Bryant toured the Vicksburg Forest lumber mill with HUD Secretary Ben Carson last year, after the plant had been bought and re-opened.
5. Ronald Ronald Reagan Started the Tradition of Inviting Presidential Guests to the State of the Union Address
In 1982, then-president Ronald Reagan invited a man named Lenny Skutnik to attend the State of the Union address as his guest. Skutnik was a staffer at the Congressional Budget Office who became a hero when he saved a plane crash victim from drowning. Reagan referred to Skutnik as an example of American heroism in his State of the Union Address. Since then, every president has invited at least one guest along to the State of the Union address, as a way of personalizing their policies. Washington insiders sometimes refer to those guests as “skutniks,” a reference to the very first presidential guest at the State of the Union.
This year, many of President Trump’s presidential challengers — people who plan to run for the White House in 2020 — are bringing along their own guests to the State of the Union. Those guests seem chosen to highlight some of the Trump administration policies that his Democratic challengers disagree with. So, New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is bringing a transgender Navy member. Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is bringing a labor leader who was furloughed from his job at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. And California Senator Kamala Harris is bringing a woman who lost her home in a wildfire and who was furloughed during the recent government shutdown.