LePage opts for low-key inaugural event

Posted Dec. 20, 2010, at 3:41 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 20, 2010, at 10:27 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — Maine Republicans may be elated over their first Blaine House victory in two decades, but they won’t celebrate by dancing the night away.

In a nod to Maine’s fragile economy, Republican Gov.-elect Paul LePage has opted against a glitzy gala inaugural ball with free-flowing Champagne next month, officials say. Instead, there will be a reception with a receiving line for LePage and his wife, Ann, at the Augusta Civic Center.

The invitation-only reception Jan. 5 follows a ceremony in which LePage will be sworn in to office before a joint session of the Maine Legislature at the civic center.

LePage was adamant about there being no fancy ball.

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“He’s just looking forward to taking the basic oath and going to work,” said Brent Littlefield, LePage’s senior political adviser and inaugural director.

Republicans have reason to party.

The last time the GOP won the governor’s race was back in 1990 — John McKernan’s second term. It has been even longer since the GOP has controlled both legislative chambers.

As is custom, LePage will take the oath of office before lawmakers from both chambers of the Legislature, as well as tribal leaders, party officials, diplomats and their spouses. Afterward, the civic center will be transformed in a matter of hours to make way for the reception. There will be music, light food, a cash bar and a receiving line.

If there is any dancing, it will be spontaneous. There are no plans for tuxedo-clad beaus or belles in ballroom gowns to waltz their way onto the dance floor.

LePage’s supporters don’t feel shortchanged, especially as the state faces a budget shortfall of up to $1 billion and more than 50,000 Mainers are out of work.

“People are suffering in the state, and he doesn’t feel like whooping it up is appropriate. I admire that,” said Amy Hale, founder of Maine Patriots, a tea party group with nearly 1,000 members.

In Maine, inaugural balls never have taken on the sense of status and prestige that accompany presidential balls, said Earle Shettleworth, state historian.

Independent Gov. Angus King and first lady Mary Herman threw a massive shindig after his first election, renting out a hangar at Brunswick Naval Air Station and inviting the public to join them.

But that’s not the norm, Shettleworth said.

Beyond the lack of a formal ball, LePage’s inaugural activities are fairly typical. Both of Gov. John Baldacci’s events, like LePage’s, were invitation-only.

The early end of LePage’s reception — 8:30 p.m. — means he can get to bed early. He will be in his office the next morning, making good on his promises to cut red tape for businesses, lower the cost of state government and create jobs, Littlefield said.

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