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  1. Florida Politics

Trump's win inspires supporters to witness inauguration in person

Tom and Robyn Payant, financial and real estate managers from Sun City Center, traveled to Washington for the inauguration of Donald Trump. "His history is one of success," Robyn Payant said. "We hope he brings this to the country." [Courtesy of Robyn Payant]
Published Jan. 20, 2017

They are businesspeople and veterans. A law enforcement officer and public relations executive. And the parents of a soldier killed in Iraq.

They live in Hillsborough and Pinellas and Pasco and Manatee.

But they all have one thing in common.

At noon today, they will be in the nation's capital, witnessing the inauguration of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of the United States.

And unlike the thousands descending on the event in protest, they couldn't be happier.

"I think there is an optimism and a trust that this man really wants to serve the people," said Kris Hager, 65, of Parrish, who with his wife, Wendy, 44, drove to attend their first inauguration.

A Gold Star father whose son, Army Staff Sgt. Joshua Hager, was 30 when he was killed in Iraq in 2007, Hager will deliver the invocation for the Commander in Chief's Ball, one of two events Trump is scheduled to attend.

"I get the honor to pray for both the president and vice president and their families," Hager said. "That is a huge deal for me."

Though Trump has sparked divisiveness over his business dealings, international relationships and confrontational persona, Hager and others who support him see a transformational figure who will benefit the nation.

"The news media puts all the nonsense out there," Hager said. "But from the man we know and the people around him we know, he is here to serve the people of the United States and that's what he cares about. He has a special affinity for Gold Star families."

Barbara Haselden, a Republican from St. Petersburg, said she is going to the inauguration because "I think this is the beginning of a whole new chapter of prosperity and hopefulness. And I want to witness that transition."

Every inauguration holds a place in history, part of the nation's unique claim to peaceful transitions of power.

Few can top the significance of the 2009 inauguration of Barack Obama, a 47-year-old freshman senator from Illinois with a reputation for eloquent speeches, when he was sworn in as the nation's first African-American president.

This time, the president is a 70-year-old businessman and reality show host with a penchant for direct outreach via Twitter, assuming political office for the first time.

Haselden, a critic of taxpayer-funded mass transit who helped kill a Pinellas County light-rail plan, said she is attending her first inauguration.

"I never thought of going before," said Haselden, who works in the insurance industry. "But we have been through a really rough patch of road and that is why I am so very excited, because that chapter is finally coming to an end."

Chris Hart, 72, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and banker, is a Republican who voted for Trump and said he is going because he sees the election — despite all the divisions — as a unifying event for the country.

"I think there is a major change happening in America and it is going to bring America together," he said.

As an example, he pointed to his days as a Hillsborough County commissioner and member of the planning commission, when he used to visit Washington, D.C., to advocate for county issues.

"I haven't been up there much in the past eight years because members of the Democratic Party and the administration did not want to work with Republicans," Hart said. "Trump's election represents a sea change, and a welcome one. Part of the clarion call President-elect Trump echoed during the campaign was we are going to take care of America and it is about time we do."

For Sun City Center residents Robyn and Tom Payant, it's all about business.

"We are over-the-moon excited about being part of this historical time in our history," said Robyn, 61, who along with her husband, Tom, 69, are financial and real estate managers.

The Payants "are inspired by the election of the entrepreneurship of Donald Trump," Robyn said. "His history is one of success. We hope he brings this to the country."

Voters, she said, "signaled a desire for reigniting a buy-American, hire-American, make America great again, and it's great to be a part of it."

Erik Anthes Sr., 52, a retired Pasco County sheriff's deputy from Spring Hill, will be attending his first inauguration. Like others, he said it's because he is inspired by Trump.

Anthes, whose son, Erik Anthes Jr., is an Army captain, said he voted for Trump "because of his economic position on striving to return jobs lost to foreign factories" and because of his "commitment to strengthen our now-depleted military and appoint Supreme Court justices who will be steadfast to preserve the Second Amendment."

He added that he is "excited and honored to be a guest," along with his son, who had three deployments to Iraq.

Gulfport City Council member Dan Liedtke, 47, said he is going in part because he scored tickets from his congressman, Republican-turned-Democrat Charlie Crist.

A Trump supporter, Liedtke said he is making his first trip to an inauguration because of its symbolism.

"It should be a representation to the rest of the world of a peaceful transfer of power," he said.

While he would not reveal how he voted, Tampa public relations executive Glenn Selig said Americans should come together and support Trump after "the most divisive election in my lifetime, perhaps American history."

Selig, 49, president and chief executive officer of a public relations company, said he believes "whether you voted for Trump or not, he is our president now. And in my opinion, he deserves our support."

Selig is taking his children.

"It will be thrilling for my daughter, 14, and son, 12, to witness history and learn that this is democracy. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, But this is what happens when a campaign ends — a peaceful transfer of power."

Contact Howard Altman at haltman@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3112. Follow @haltman.

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