Governors' Inaugurations Take on Frugal Airs

 

Most of the newly elected governors' inaugural ceremonies focused on faith, family and service at a time when the country grieves for those lost in the Asian tsunami and prays for U.S. service members fighting the global war against terrorism.

But the celebrations had their lighter moments, too, drawing the likes of an Elvis impersonator to Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels' (R) festivities. "Elvis," aka Bruce Borders, happens to be a newly elected member of the Indiana Statehouse.

Most of the country's 28 Republican governors are expected to travel to Washington, D.C., Jan. 20 to attend President Bush's inauguration, but two GOP governors are grabbing a piece of the national spotlight on their own. Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (R) will be on base guitar when his band, Capitol Offense, jams during one of the "unofficial" presidential inaugural balls. Nebraska Gov. Mike Johanns (R) has been on the Washington hot seat this month, taking questions from U.S. senators and awaiting confirmation of his nomination as secretary of agriculture.

All the winners of this past November's 11 gubernatorial races used their inaugurations to imprint their styles as their states' newly minted top executives. Seven governors were elected to their first terms.

Newcomers Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. (R) of Utah and Gov. John Lynch (D) of New Hampshire both used their inaugural balls to raise money for tsunami relief. Huntsman, a former ambassador to Singapore and later a U.S. deputy trade ambassador, had visited all the affected Asian nations and raised $60,000 in private funds to donate to tsunami relief. The Sri Lankan ambassador to the United States was on Huntsman's inaugural guest list before the tsunami struck and kept him away.

In a similar vein, Vermont Gov. James Douglas (R) used his inaugural ball to benefit Vermont's military families, collecting an estimated $20,000. Douglas, who was re-elected to a second term in November, used his first inaugural gala to benefit alcohol and drug rehabilitation and prevention programs.

The mood in Washington state, however, was less charitable. Some 150 supporters of Republican Dino Rossi tried but failed to get refunds for the $75 they paid for inaugural ball tickets when it appeared Rossi was the governor-elect. After two recounts, Democrat Christine Gregoire took office Jan. 12, but Republicans continue to challenge the razor-thin outcome. She became governor when a hand recount of nearly 2.9 million votes put her ahead of Rossi by 129 votes.

The new governors of Indiana and Missouri opted for no-frills, traditional gatherings. In Indiana, Borders, the Elvis impersonator, was among the performers at Daniels' two-day inaugural celebrations. Daniels, a multimillionaire and former White House budget director, used the State Fairgrounds as the venue for his swearing-in. Daniels, who often stumped for votes wearing a plaid flannel shirt, sent out formal inaugural invitations telling Hoosiers to "leave your tux at home!"

In Missouri, Gov. Matt Blunt (R) made sure to avoid repeating the $1 million folly of his predecessor. Former Gov. Bob Holden (D) spent the first six months of his term paying for his lavish inauguration. The Blunt campaign spent less than $250,000. Unlike Holden's inaugural, which included fireworks, a barbeque dinner and designer chocolates, the new governor offered coffee, tea and desserts provided by a Springfield food company where Blunt had worked as marketing director.

Daniels wasn't the only governor sporting celebrities. North Carolina's favorite son, Andy Griffith, best known for his role as Mayberry's friendly sheriff, was on hand to read a poem during Gov. Mike Easley's (D) second inauguration.

For the first time in Montana history, Native Americans played a significant role in the governor's inauguration. The flags that Montana's eight tribal nations brought to Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer's ceremonies now will fly next to the U.S. and Montana flags on the grounds of the state Capitol.

West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin III (D) held the last of this year's inaugurations for gubernatorial victors on Jan. 17. To make sure folks didn't miss any of the festivities, Manchin's inaugural activities were spelled out in a 15-page gold and black printed invitation, bound by a hand-tied black ribbon.

Stateline.org reporters Pauline Vu, Eric Kelderman and Erin Madigan contributed to this report.

 
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