Obama’s win unites Arizonans across party lines - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

Obama’s win unites Arizonans across party lines

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Posted: Saturday, January 17, 2009 4:51 pm | Updated: 1:42 am, Sat Oct 8, 2011.

The sense of history that accompanies the inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation’s 44th president is particularly keen for John Chiazza of Gilbert.

INTERACTIVE: Live Inauguration coverage

Valley students and a Gilbert resident blog from Washington D.C.

The sense of history that accompanies the inauguration of Barack Obama as the nation’s 44th president is particularly keen for John Chiazza of Gilbert.

INTERACTIVE: Live Inauguration coverage

Valley students and a Gilbert resident blog from Washington D.C.

He was there in 1960 when John F. Kennedy accepted the Democratic presidential nomination in Los Angeles. And he will be there Tuesday for the swearing in of a new president who, he says, evokes the same sense of optimism he felt nearly a half-century ago.

“He’s reaching out to everybody and he wants to unite everybody so we can make the changes that need to be made, not just in America but in the world,” Chiazza said of Obama.

Chiazza and his wife, Marcia, will spend a week in Washington, D.C. But the main event will be the swearing-in ceremony, said Chiazza, who volunteered for the Obama campaign in Arizona and helped organize fellow veterans to work for his election.

Politics has been a part of Chiazza’s life since the Kennedy speech, he said. A Vietnam veteran, he was active in Democratic Party politics in California before moving to Arizona 19 years ago. He continued his activism, eventually becoming chairman of the District 22 Democrats in Gilbert. Chiazza was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention last year, and in 2004, when Obama broke onto the national stage with a rousing speech.

Goodwill toward the United States has taken a beating under the eight years of President Bush, Chiazza said, adding he believes Obama will reverse that.

“Now we have somebody new, somebody young, somebody vibrant and he is going to unite America and make the changes,” he said. “I think it’s a wonderful feeling that we have coming toward us.”

There is a sense of optimism among the politicians and political activists from Arizona who are planning to attend Obama’s inauguration. Even Republicans from the state’s congressional delegation acknowledge that there is a strong sense of history as Obama becomes the nation’s first black president.

For Rep. Harry Mitchell, D-Ariz., a retired high school government teacher, it is particularly fitting that Obama is taking office 200 years after the birth of the nation’s 16th president, Abraham Lincoln, who like Obama came from Illinois.

Obama will become president in some of the toughest times the nation has seen since the Great Depression, said Mitchell, who will watch the ceremony from the platform for members of Congress. But Obama enjoys a sense of goodwill that extends beyond partisanship, the congressman added.

Unlike former President Clinton and outgoing President Bush, Obama won the presidency by a clear majority. That should help him avoid some of the rancor that his two predecessors faced, particularly in Congress, Mitchell said.

“There is a great excitement in the sense of history,” Mitchell said. “It’s kind of scary because the expectations are so high. There are going to be people disappointed, obviously, when you get down to actually governing. There’s a great expectation all around that there’s going to be a fresh start. I think everybody’s hopes are around Obama.”

Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., who traveled recently to Afghanistan and Lebanon, said Obama starts his administration with high hopes internationally, particularly in the Muslim world. The last eight years under President Bush have raised tensions overseas, Flake said. Obama offers more than just a clean break from Bush, Flake said.

Being the first black American to become president raises expectations around the world that Obama will be able to build better relationships with some nations that have long been distrustful of American policies, Flake said.

“In the Muslim world this is huge,” said Flake, who will also attend the inauguration. “He starts his administration with a leg up just because the generic anti-American rhetoric overseas just doesn’t work. He may squander it. But he starts with a huge plus.”

On domestic issues, Obama is likely to enjoy something of a traditional “honeymoon” period with Congress, said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz. Much of that comes because Democrats hold the advantage in both houses of Congress.

But Obama also will benefit from the historic nature of becoming the first black president and the energy he has generated, particularly among young voters, Kyl said.

“There is always a honeymoon. There will be here,” Kyl said of the spirit of cooperation that Obama is likely to see from Congress, at least initially. “It will be longer because he’s got both branches of Congress so Republicans have less ability to end the honeymoon. Part of that will depend on events he has no control over.”

The dire economic times the nation is facing make it more likely politicians will set partisanship aside in some instances, Kyl said. But that does not mean Republicans will roll over on costly government programs that Obama wants, he said, singling out the $800 billion-plus stimulus package the president-elect is pushing.

“There are some things that just have to be done and at least partisanship is less of a factor,” Kyl said. “They’ve got $800 billion in spending, almost none of which stimulates anything except the deficit. It’s just a litany of stuff they want to do and they’ve got an excuse to do it.”

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