California’s 40th governor – Gavin Newsom – will be sworn in this morning on the steps of the State Capitol, at a ceremony filled with pomp-and-circumstance.
The tradition of an inauguration is America’s version of the changing of the guard at Buckingham Palace. The new chief executive takes the reins of power while promising to defend the Constitution, while the outgoing executive is saluted for his service and quietly slips out the back door.
If you’ve never been to a California gubernatorial inauguration, they are quite the sight to see and really reflect both the personal and governing style of the governor being sworn in. To see some sights and sounds of inaugurations past, check out this Huell Howser special from the 1990’s where he explores the tradition of California’s inauguration on the occasion of Gov. Wilson’s second inaugural.
I’ve had the opportunity to attend three gubernatorial inaugurations over the years – Gray Davis’ in 1998, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s in 2003, and Jerry Brown’s in 2015.
Gray Davis’ inauguration was about “out with old, in with the new” as a Democrat took over following 16 years of Republican rule. I remember Vice President Al Gore attended the ceremony and Governor Davis went out of his way in his speech to signal his administration’s support for the Clinton policies. Emphasizing his image as a moderate Democrat, the event was held at Sacramento’s Memorial Auditorium as a tribute to California’s veterans.
Arnold Schwarzenegger’s inauguration in 2003 was exciting. Respecting our inaugural history and traditions, the Schwarzenegger inauguration was everything you’d expect – big crowds, great pageantry, Vanessa Williams performing the national anthem, a memorable speech, and Hollywood celebrities galore.
I volunteered for the inaugural committee, helping to distribute tickets on the morning of the inauguration. In a sign of the many surreal celebrity moments that were to come in the Schwarzenegger era, I even had an infamous encounter with the late Chyna the female wrestler, who had a problem getting her tickets.
Jerry Brown’s last inaugural in 2015 was also what you’d expect for a Governor who has never been one for frills or lavish celebrations. It was a simple ceremony in the Assembly chambers, followed by a brief speech that he wrote himself, delivered before a few hundred supporters.
So, what can we expect from Gavin Newsom’s inauguration and first days in office? Judging from his inaugural festivities – which included a rock star-studded benefit relief concert for the victims of the recent California fires – glitz, glamour, and pageantry will be back in the Newsom years.
After 8 years as Lieutenant Governor, it’s finally Newsom’s moment to be out front and make his own mark. While tipping his hat to his predecessor for leaving the state relatively in prosperity, Newsom will now move the state in his direction. With a 60-seat legislative supermajority, it’s expected that he’ll be open to spending more on common priorities like universal pre-school.
Regardless of who is being sworn in, inauguration day is a day to celebrate California’s democracy. The peaceful transfer of power from one governor to another – which we take for granted in this country – is the embodiment of the voices of the people deciding the future of our state. That’s something we can all celebrate, as Gov. Newsom might say, whether we are fans of California’s new chief executive or not.
Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s communications director.