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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Inaugural ball offered a feast of fanciness

Richard Roesler The Spokesman-Review

If you’d wanted to attend the governor’s black-tie inaugural ball last week, you would have had to pack up your tuxedo or gown, drive 300 miles over the passes, fork out $150 a couple and – hardest of all – find parking near the Capitol.

If you had, here’s what it would have been like:

The Capitol, normally a silent sandstone icon that’s nearly deserted at night, echoed with four bands and the roar of more than 1,000 people drinking, dancing and laughing. It was half high-school prom, half Olympia schmooze-fest. Inside the rotunda, people lined up hours in advance along the stairs and balconies, staking out good positions to see the new governor, Christine Gregoire.

Republicans – unhappy with a governor’s election that their candidate lost by just 129 votes – were few and far between. But there were some – including some of those who’d sat stone-faced through Gregoire’s inaugural speech a few hours earlier.

“Am I the only Republican here?” joked Rep. Richard DeBolt, R-Chehalis.

The crowd overflowed into tents, where a rock band blasted out a cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Brown Sugar.” Nearby, the crowd worked over the food tables, where vegetable and fruit trays competed with “artichoke prosciutto barigoule with saffron aioli” and “hoisin barbecued pork and rock shrimp lumpia with mango coulis.” A squad of oyster-shuckers stood over a bed of ice, ready to shuck different varieties of live oyster on request.

Spotlighted ice sculptures – a Mardi Gras jester, eagles hunting salmon – slowly dripped to the floor. There was plenty to drink – three or four kinds of Washington wines, bottled under a special “Inaugural ball” label. The beer: Miller Genuine Draft and Miller Lite. Ballgoers were issued little plastic wine glasses with an inaugural ball logo.

Who pays for all this? Not you, unless you went. The event is organized by a nonprofit group near Olympia, with costs covered by the ticket price.

In the House and Senate chambers, dressed-up people posed for photos in front of the dais. Small parties were under way in the rooms off the main chambers – Lt. Gov. Brad Owen was serving carrot cake and showing off his historic office; people mingled in the governor’s conference room.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown’s office was a popular spot, with visitors crowding in to schmooze over wine. Brown likes to use album covers to indicate the legislative tone week by week. On the wall last week were John Lennon’s “Imagine” and Jackson Browne’s “Lives in the Balance.”

“This is big for Spokane: Senate Majority Leader,” one man explained loudly to another visitor. (In fact, someone from Spokane has held that title for three of the past four years: Jim West in 2002 and 2003, and now Brown.)

Over in the Supreme Court, Johnny Lewis’ Big Swing Band played “The Girl From Ipanema” as partygoers danced and dipped strawberries and marshmallows into chocolate. Among the dancing crowd: Jim Johnson, a conservative attorney recently elected to the Supreme Court, boogying with Superintendent of Public Instruction Terry Bergenson.

Standing outside in the darkness, bundled up against the cold, were James and Michelle Ashley-Cole, an Olympia couple. They’d brought their 4-year-old daughter, 11-month-old son, two beagles – and protest signs. Back when it looked like Republican Dino Rossi would be governor, they spent $150 on tickets. When Gregoire won by 129 votes after three counts, the couple refused to attend.

“Have a nice night!” James shouted to a passing car of partygoers. “We wish we could!”

His wife held a sign reading “No Rossi for gov? No party for us!”

The couple said they’ve already donated $350 to a Rossi campaign fund for 2008.