Arizona, destination of presidents (sometimes) - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Voices

Arizona, destination of presidents (sometimes)

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Mark J. Scarp is a contributing columnist for the Tribune. Reach him at

Posted: Saturday, January 21, 2012 6:29 pm | Updated: 11:30 am, Tue Jan 24, 2012.

If you're looking for an indicator of the condition of society, go no further than to note that we live in an age where even the president of the United States has to schedule his addresses to the nation to avoid conflicts with "American Idol" and playoff games.

Even so, it's likely that only the most dyed-in-the-wool Arizona political junkies are likely to watch President Barack Obama's State of the Union Address Tuesday and his remarks in Phoenix the next day.

You can see this presidential double-feature as a chance for Arizonans to finally hear Obama at some length. (Extreme partisans who don't ever want to hear what a candidate of their least favorite party has to say should feel free to stop reading at any time.)

We've been hearing the Republican candidates for months now; they just finished their 17th televised debate the other night. Another is scheduled for the Mesa Arts Center in late February at which they are likely to be setting up only one lectern and opening the doors to let in some crickets, but few others.

While today presidential visits to Arizona are relatively commonplace, it wasn't always that way.

Presidents and Arizona have a relatively brief history. For America's first century and a half as a nation, Arizona was probably too far away for them to plan on actually coming here. Maybe one of them was on a train that went through here on the way to California, where at least there was a beach waiting after the week or so it took to get there, but that's not the kind of stuff you find in most history books.

Theodore Roosevelt famously spoke on the steps of Old Main of what was to become Arizona State University in 1911 - two years after he left office. He was here for the dedication of a dam on the Salt River that was named for him, so it makes one wonder whether he would have bothered otherwise.

Obama has been to Arizona a few times since his election: In February 2010, he came to Dobson High School in Mesa to explain a plan to melt frozen credit markets to spur lending to desperate homeowners. Eleven months later he was at the University of Arizona in Tucson to mourn the victims of the Jan. 8, 2011, shootings at a supermarket that killed six and wounded 13, including U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz.

In recent times, Democratic presidents have made few visits to Arizona and until George W. Bush, Republican ones didn't believe they really needed to, given the significant GOP voter registration margin here. Bush was in the Valley so often during his term that commuters began to commit to memory his usual motorcade route between Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport to the Royal Palms hotel.

You have to go back to John F. Kennedy's appearance at the Westward Ho Hotel on Central Avenue five days before his 1960 election to hear a Democratic candidate talk about Arizona's comfortable Democratic majority, which they had then.

By the time Bill Clinton arrived one afternoon in May 1992, the streak of Republicans winning Arizona was 10 in a row. Clinton showed up at an electrical workers' union hall near 36th Street and McDowell and spoke a few minutes before heading up to Paradise Valley for a private fund-raiser. He was gone before noon the next day.

Clinton lost Arizona in 1992, but broke the Republican streak in 1996.

If there's any thread running through the travels of chief executives to our state, it's that the issues may change, but the rhetoric is getting more familiar. More than 51 years ago, then-Sen. Kennedy's brief remarks in Phoenix included this passage that I found on the website of the American Presidency Project of the University of California, Santa Barbara:

"This is an important election. It involves the future of this country. The presidency is a key office, holding great power and influence, given to it by the Constitution, and also given to it by the course of events. We cannot possibly afford in these difficult times, when the president of the United States must set before the American people the unfinished business of our society, we cannot possibly afford to put the chief responsibility upon those who look back."

In that speech, Kennedy made a brief reference to Sen. Barry Goldwater, R-Ariz., accurately predicting Goldwater's presidential campaign of 1964.

Obama will not venture a guess about the Republican nominee in 2016, or even 2012.

But we can only hope that his visit Wednesday will mark the start of a commitment by both eventual nominees to tone down the finger-pointing and ramp up the how-to-get-us-where-we-need-to-go.

This is information currently found by trolling campaign websites, something that mostly dyed-in-the-wool political junkies engage in, something that not enough typical voters do.

This explains why so often we get the politicians we do, by electing finger-pointers-in-chief who dare not cross "American Idol."


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