US governors ditching glitzy inaugural events

By Tim Martin

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Dec. 31 2010 2:27 p.m. MST

In this Wednesday, Dec. 29, 2010, photo at the state Capitol in Lansing, Mich., Dave Earhart, right, and Carlos Ramirez prepare the stage which will be used for inauguration ceremonies. In better days, newly elected governors were welcomed into office with star-studded galas, serenades by rock bands, even an NFL stadium transformed into a winter wonderland. But with many now facing multibillion-dollar deficits and high unemployment, states' top bosses are toning it down. Way down.

Al Goldis, Associated Press

LANSING, Mich. — In better days, newly elected governors were welcomed into office with star-studded galas, serenades by rock bands, even an NFL stadium transformed into a winter wonderland. But with many now facing multibillion-dollar deficits and high unemployment, states' top bosses are toning it down. Way down.

Texas Gov. Rick Perry is ditching his black-tie affair and holding a free barbecue, while Minnesota Gov.-elect Mark Dayton is encouraging blue jeans at his inaugural ball. In California, where Gov.-elect Jerry Brown is walking into a projected $28 billion deficit, expect a B-movie production compared to the glitzy 2007 inaugural of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. And rockers Bon Jovi won't be making an appearance this year for Pennsylvania Gov.-elect Tom Corbett.

"It's a tough environment," said Michigan Gov.-elect Rick Snyder, who will inherit the country's second-highest unemployment rate when he takes office Saturday. "You want to set the right kind of tone."

Inaugural events are usually privately funded, so scaling back generally doesn't help a state's bottom line. The festivities are often about image, and taxpayers and state employees keep a close watch on the festivities to get a first impression about their governor's spending habits.

"Leadership counts and symbolism counts," said Ray Holman, legislative liaison for United Auto Workers Local 6000, a large state employee union in Michigan. "State employees have taken concession after concession. If an inauguration is too glitzy, it sends the wrong message."

Most of the nation's 37 new or re-elected governors are dialing down their inauguration plans in favor of quieter, low-key gatherings amid the country's still-struggling economy and 9.8 percent unemployment rate. Many are using inaugural events to raise money for charity, including Iowa's Republican Gov.-elect Terry Branstad, whose privately funded events are expected to help fund college scholarships.

Dayton, along with wearing jeans, is offering a discount on tickets to his inaugural dinner for students and low-income residents in Minnesota.

"The governor-elect wants everyone to feel welcome and comfortable, and him wearing blue jeans is a way to do that," said Dayton chief of staff Tina Smith.

Snyder, rather than trekking hundreds of miles across Michigan for several inaugural receptions, is having his lone bash Saturday just five miles from the state Capitol where he'll be sworn in. The former Gateway computer executive's inaugural committee expects to raise about $1.3 million from private donors, and his cocktail-attire reception will feature local food and drink. Tickets cost $125.

Appropriate, the Republican says, considering Michigan's 12.4 percent jobless rate — tied with California and trailing only Nevada — and a possible $1.8 billion budget shortfall for the next fiscal year.

It's a stark contrast to years past. Outgoing Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm's inaugural committee raised and spent roughly $3 million from private sources for 15 events over 15 days in 2003. One of the biggest parties was at Ford Field, home of the NFL's Detroit Lions, where the black-tie-optional affair featured a martini bar, venison and whitefish. Trees were brought into the stadium and decorated in a "winter wonderland" theme.

Festivities were scaled back considerably after the Democrat's re-election in 2007, amid Michigan's plummeting economy. Black-tie galas were ditched, and guests at some events were given brown bags stuffed with donated made-in-Michigan products such as Rice Krispie treats and Faygo soda.

In Pennsylvania, outgoing Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell's second inauguration in 2007 included a concert with Bon Jovi, the Dixie Hummingbirds and Frankie Avalon. This year, as the state faces a $4 billion budget deficit, the number of events surrounding Corbett's inauguration will be limited, according to his inaugural organizing committee.

The star power also will be missing in California. Brown, who also served as governor from 1975 to 1983, is promising to keep a lean inaugural budget and capping inaugural donations from private sponsors at $5,000 each. Schwarzenegger's 2007 inaugural featured performances by Tony Award-winner Jennifer Holliday and Grammy Award-winner Jose Feliciano, and his black-tie evening gala featured Paul Anka and Donna Summer.

"The days of pomp and pageantry are past," Brown spokesman Evan Westrup said.

Texas voters elected Perry to a record third term as governor in November, but in light of a state budget shortfall that could hit $25 billion, he's ditched the traditional inaugural parade and black-tie ball. Instead, privately funded inaugural festivities include a business-attire evening celebration, though the ticket price is still $75. An afternoon barbecue for guests to mingle with the governor is free to ticket holders, but in years past cost $8 per plate.

"It's still cause for celebration at a historic time, it's just being done in a way that's more appropriate for right now," said Perry inaugural spokeswoman Sarah Beck. "We're doing it in a way that we think is most responsible."

Associated Press writers Jay Root in Austin, Texas; Brian Bakst in St. Paul, Minn.; Peter Jackson in Harrisburg, Pa.; Mike Glover in Des Moines, Iowa; and Kathy Barks Hoffman in Lansing contributed to this report.

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