Rep. Joe Baca, D-Rialto, second from left, earned a aisle seat to greet President Barack Obama before the State of the Union speech./AP

Published: 29 January 2012 06:51 PM

They don’t call him “Working Joe” for nothing.

For at least the fourth consecutive year, U.S. Rep. Joe Baca outmaneuvered a host of his Democratic colleagues and worked himself into a coveted center aisle seat at last week’s State of the Union address. Baca, who was already in position several hours before the speech, again nabbed a primo spot and fought through the scrum of lawmakers to greet President Barack Obama on his way to the podium.

In years past, Baca has used the exchange to invite Obama to a round of golf or to shoot some hoops. But this year, the Rialto Democrat extended a book for the president to sign, which he did without hesitation.

The book: “All Labor Has Dignity,” from historian Michael K. Honey.

It’s a compilation of speeches given by Martin Luther King Jr. on the subject of economic justice and labor rights, presented as a reminder that the civil rights hero fought for economic rights for all people.

As it turned out, economic equality was the central thrust of Obama’s speech, in which he called upon the wealthy to pay a greater share of taxes. And just as King decried federal spending on the war in Vietnam while American cities struggled with blight and decay, Obama proposed putting half of the savings from ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan toward rebuilding the nation’s crumbling roads and bridges.

“It parallels the book,” Baca said, arguing that King’s words resonate more than ever amid the current economic turmoil.

Emotional honor

A day after emerging to rousing cheers at Tuesday’s speech, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., formally resigned her seat in Congress to continue her recovery from the wounds she suffered after being shot last year.

The occasion drew more than a few tears from those on both sides of the aisle, who honored her service on the House floor. Ahead of the ceremony, Giffords asked a handful of lawmakers to be at her side.

Among them was Inland Rep. Mary Bono Mack, who developed a friendship with Giffords over the years, though they hail from opposing parties.

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