Governors Tone Down Inaugural Celebrations

By: - January 7, 2003 12:00 am

In keeping with the economically unsettled times, many governors and their supporters are settling for inaugural celebrations with a little less pomp and circumstance than is typical for these often gaudy political affairs.

Martinis, tuxedos and lobbyists are out, while barbecues, blue jeans and families are in. Call it inauguration lite.

“With the budget challenges the state’s facing, [Gov.-elect Mark Sanford] didn’t want to have an opulent inaugural that seemed to be inconsistent with those challenges,” said Keith Munson, spokesman for South Carolina’s governor-elect.

So instead of an invitation-only black tie gala, Sanford, a Republican, is hosting a barbecue at the State Farmers Market in Columbia.

After his swearing-in, Sanford plans to stand outside the Governor’s Mansion and shake hands with people “wherever they may come from, for as long as they’re there,” he told reporters.

The inaugural barbecue will be held Jan. 15 and will include a variety of meats and barbecue styles, with sauces ranging from vinegar to mustard to ketchup-based. The sauce decision was not made lightly — Sanford wanted all of the state’s barbecue styles represented.

“That’s how important barbecue is,” John Rainey, chair of Sanford’s inaugural committee, told The State (Columbia) newspaper.

In Minnesota, Republican Gov.-elect Tim Pawlenty’s inaugural events include a party at the Minneapolis Convention Center, headlined by local rock bands GB Leighton and R-Factor, and a hockey game pitting a team led by Pawlenty against one captained by former governor and Olympic hockey team member Wendell Anderson.

Pawlenty’s inaugural festivities, dubbed “Celebrate Minnesota,” cover the week of Jan. 6-11. They come at a time when the state is facing a budget deficit of more than billion.

“It’s a more modest, more appropriate inauguration and inaugural week activities. It’s especially appropriate given that we’re at war and in a recession,” said Pat Sexton, spokesman for Pawlenty and a veteran of recent Minnesota inaugurations.

In 1999, Sexton worked on the inauguration of Gov. Jess Ventura, who was elected at the zenith of the boom times of the 1990’s and threw a bash befitting the times. Sexton also helped with the inauguration of Gov. Arne Carlson, who first assumed office during the recession of the early 1990’s when the state had a budget shortfall of billion. Carlson’s was a more subdued inauguration.

Incumbents especially are toning down their inaugural celebrations. California Gov. Gray Davis, a Democrat, rang in his second term on Monday (1/6) with a barbecue, forgoing a lavish bash like the one he threw four years ago.

New York Gov. George Pataki, elected to his third term, celebrated Jan. 1 with a reception for about 1,000 invited guests. Eight years ago, the Republican threw a lavish black-tie ball for 13,000 New Yorkers. It was considered one of the most extravagant inaugural celebrations in state history.

Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s second inauguration festivities include a barbecue, held Sunday, Jan. 5, and a “black tie and blue jeans ball.” Four years ago, Republican Bush hosted a big concert and a formal ball and led a parade through the state capital.

Subdued inaugural celebrations and family-friendly barbecues are not universal. Some new governors, especially those from political parties long out of power, are planning big bashes to reward supporters and kick-off their terms in style.

Georgia Gov.-elect Sonny Perdue will host an inaugural ball at the World Congress Center in Atlanta, headlined by entertainer Ray Charles. The Jan. 13 ball is expected to attract 15,000 to 20,000 Georgians, with tickets costing each. It’s “business attire/black-tie optional,” according to Perdue’s transition web site.

Perdue is the first Republican to be elected governor of Georgia since 1872.

In New Mexico last week, Gov. Bill Richardson threw three inaugural galas, one with a performance from country crooner Randy Travis. Richardson, a Democrat, assumed office after eight years of Republican rule.

Guests at Richardson’s balls wore evening gowns and tuxedos, although the formal attire in many cases came with a decidedly Southwestern twist cowboy hats and boots.

For a complete rundown of the inauguration dates of the 36 governors elected Nov. 5, see sidebar.

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