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Lollapalooza of a Simple Event

With thousands of guests, brass bands and national TV coverage, the Schwarzenegger swearing-in will have a frill or two.

November 17, 2003|Mitchell Landsberg | Times Staff Writer

At 11 a.m. today, Arnold Schwarzenegger will place his hand on a Bible and take the oath of office as California's 38th governor. It will be a simple, no-frills ceremony, his advisors say.

All right, so there will be a few brass bands. Seven thousand or so invited guests. A five-story camera riser groaning with the weight of an international press corps. Live, national television coverage. A flotilla of satellite trucks. Every living former governor of California, with the sole exception of Ronald Reagan. Both houses of the Legislature. A Hollywood contingent expected to include Tom Arnold, Jamie Lee Curtis, Danny DeVito, Linda Hamilton and Rob Lowe. A few Kennedys. And Kaiser Jagdproviant (which is not someone you salute, but something you eat). Not to mention Vanessa Williams singing the national anthem.

"The charge was: simple but dignified, and we are sticking to that," said Marty Wilson, executive director of the inaugural committee.

Everything, it seems, is relative. Aside from the unprecedented media interest, it's true that the inaugural will be fairly low-key by California's historical standards. There will be no inaugural ball, for instance, a marked contrast from the multi-themed, dueling balls that ushered in the back-to-back administrations of Govs. Pete Wilson and Gray Davis, not to mention the dance-until-you-drop affair of Gov. George Pardee (1903-07), which lasted until 4 a.m.

Nor will Schwarzenegger's inaugural address, timed at a crisp 10 minutes to fit neatly in the typical time between TV commercials, remotely compare to some of the oratorical excesses of the past, such as the 22-page, 90-minute speech that kicked off the administration of Gov. James "Sunny Jim" Rolph in 1931. Schwarzenegger's speech -- drafted in part by former Reagan speechwriter Landon Parvin and longtime Democratic hand Bob Shrum, who is close to the Kennedys -- will hold few specifics and emphasize Schwarzenegger's broader vision for the state, say two aides who have seen it.

"It really is just a ceremony," said Marty Wilson, who also coordinated the inaugural events for Pete Wilson (no relation) in 1991 and 1995. An extravagant celebration would seem inappropriate, he said, given the state's fiscal ills and the unusual nature of the recall that led to Schwarzenegger's election.

"Gov. Schwarzenegger feels that would send just the wrong message," he said.

As it is, the inaugural events fill a three-page schedule. Live television coverage was expected to begin at 3 a.m. today, when TV networks were scheduled to begin broadcasting from the Capitol, primarily for early risers on the East Coast.

Schwarzenegger and his wife, Maria Shriver, were scheduled to arrive at the Capitol at 10:25 a.m., with the swearing-in to begin promptly at 11 a.m. Stan Atkinson, a veteran Sacramento TV anchor, was to serve as master of ceremonies from a dais built on the Capitol steps. In case of rain, the ceremony was to be moved a few blocks to Sacramento's Memorial Auditorium.

Traditionally, governors have taken the oath of office in the state Assembly chambers before a joint session of the Legislature. However, that practice has been largely abandoned in recent years as governors sought larger venues, either the Capitol steps or the Memorial Auditorium.

Two dozen dignitaries were invited to sit on the dais with Schwarzenegger. Among those expected to attend were Davis and former Govs. Wilson, George Deukmejian and Jerry Brown, representing nearly three decades of California governance. Brown and Davis are Democrats; Wilson and Deukmejian, like Schwarzenegger, are Republicans. Among living ex-governors, only Reagan, who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease, was expected to be a no-show.

After assorted preliminaries, including the national anthem rendition by Schwarzenegger's "Eraser" co-star Vanessa Williams, the oath of office was to be administered by California Chief Justice Ronald M. George, using one of two Bibles -- either a 16th century French edition that is owned by the State Library and has been used to swear in governors since 1871, or a family Bible to be provided by Schwarzenegger and Shriver. Following tradition, Schwarzenegger planned to make his inaugural remarks after the swearing-in.

As ceremonies go, the inauguration of a new chief executive for the state is both ripe with meaning and, as a rule, fairly cut and dried. There has been drama, as in 1967 when Reagan insisted on holding his swearing-in at 12:01 a.m. in the Capitol's grand rotunda, or 1939, when a protester was dragged out of the proceedings during the inauguration of Culbert Olson, shouting, "I demand to be heard!"

Still, state Capitol Museum curator Vito Sgromo said he had a hard time coming up with interesting material for an exhibit about inaugurations. "It's been a ceremony that has not seen dramatic changes or anything," he said.

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