But by time they’re over, they stay pretty much true to formBy Vincent P. Carocci
When it comes to gubernatorial inaugurations, there are four constants always in the mix: Cold weather in January; the inaugural speech; the afore-mentioned signature moment which gives each celebration its historical imprint; and the first-day-after initiative of the new or (in the context of two-term governors) renewed Administration.
The Weather—The cold in January, even in the moderate climate of Central Pennsylvania, always is a factor. Rendell’s second inaugural was blessed by an unusually temperate day (temperatures in the low 40’s) but no inaugural organizing committee dare not factor the weather into their plans. Govs. Edward Martin in 1940 and David L. Lawrence in 1959 had their swearings-in moved indoors (Martin’s to the Forum, Lawrence’s to the State Farm Show Building) because of inclement weather (read that snow). The next two gubernatorial oath takings—Scranton, 1963 and Shafer, 1967—simply were planned for the Farm Show to remove the weather as an unknown. Milton Shapp in 1971 decided to return the inaugural to the outdoors, the first chief executive to risk the elements since Gov. George M. Leader in 1955. Shapp II in 1975 and, in their order, Richard Thornburgh (1979 and 1983), Robert P. Casey Sr. (1987, 1991), Tom Ridge (1995, 1999) and Rendell (2003, 2007) each followed suit. All survived nicely, the cold not withstanding.
Inaugural Speeches—Gubernatorial inaugural speeches have had one distinguishing characteristic, certainly for the last half-century, and probably longer. They all have been less than memorable. Confining ourselves for discussion purposes to only those inaugurals I attended or observed, William W. Scranton’s address in 1963 was praised in press accounts for its “Sandburgian” quality. But it also was panned for being “more an exposition of faith in the people than a blue print of things to come.” Raymond P. Shafer, in succeeding Scranton, committed his Administration to a “Commonwealth of Excellence” dedicated to “leading the nation.” But the address also was tweaked for being “highly philosophical with only the vaguest outline” of how the Commonwealth was going to get there.
The aforementioned Shapp dedicated himself and his Administration to be the “people’s advocate.” Yet his first-term inaugural is remembered as one of the most elaborate certainly in modern times (to include a $100 cocktail party hosted by former Gov. Leader two days before the swearing in; a pre-inaugural brunch honoring the first and second ladies to-be the day before the installation ceremonies; a pre-inaugural fund-raiser at which 500 silver medallions could be purchased at $500 each and 275 gold medallions at a bargain price of $1,000 each with a champagne dinner and a $50/person pre-inaugural ball that night as part of the festivities; and on inaugural night, not one but three inaugural balls, hosted for television coincidentally by former First Lady Mary Jane Leader and Philadelphia television personality Roy Nassau, who later would become one in a series of press secretaries to Gov. Shapp ). Is it any wonder Shapp’s speech was lost in the flurry?
Shapp’s second-term inaugural address ran only 10 minutes and was interrupted by applause only once, when he pledged no increase in taxes the next four years (after having been required by national economic conditions and the state’s dire fiscal circumstances to raise them twice in the first term).
Richard Thornburgh, who rode the Shapp Administration’s second-term scandals to an overwhelming victory in 1978, pledged to “govern with a sense of purpose characterized by frugality, simplicity, a sense of humanity and obtainable expectations.” He also couldn’t resist taking a shot at the air of corruption which plagued Shapp’s second term when he promised, with his predecessor on the platform, to “restore people’s belief in the ability of their government to serve them with strong, effective, forthright leadership.” (Thornburgh went to such lengths to distance himself from his predecessor that years later, he would insist that when Milton Shapp’s gubernatorial portrait was hung in the Governor’s Office as tradition required, he (Thornburgh) would be away from the capital city of Harrisburg that day.)
In their initial inaugurals, Robert P. Casey in 1987 pledged to create a New Pennsylvania, and Tom Ridge eight years later essentially pledged to do him one better. Rendell’s second-term speech was a noticeable break with tradition when, with a laundry list of accomplishments claimed for the first term and the promise of specific advances in specific areas of government in the second, he delivered what seemed to many to be more of a State of the Commonwealth address rather than an inaugural speech.
Signature Moments—Judge Mrs. Rendell was no doubt the spotlight performer at her husband’s second inaugural celebration ball, singing along with Bon Jovi at the ball. But each preceding swearing-in certainly had memorable moments of its own. Gov. Scranton wowed the standing-room-only crowd at his ball with a rousing Charleston before taking the baton to lead the Inaugural band in song. Shafer’s swearing-in had a slight odor to it because working crews (carpenters, cleaners, movers and associated colleagues) had to work through the weekend to transform the Farm Show Building from an agricultural exposition to a ceremonial forum.
Milton Shapp’s first Inaugural had its spotlight stolen more than just a bit when Shafer’s outgoing attorney general, Fred Speaker, ordered the electric chair dismantled just minutes before the power of office was transferred to the new governor. His second was marred by an announcement just days prior from his attorney general pledging a “full investigation” into missing state insurance payments and possible pay-offs to former state officials. It was just a hint of the scandals to come that would haunt the Administration for most of its second term.
Richard and Mrs. Thornburgh were welcomed in the first term by a 2:30 p.m. “Royal Salute from the Royal American Regiment artillery unit.” The salute was dropped from second-term festivities four years later. But his repeat inaugural featured a political fund-raiser at the Governor’s residence prior to the Inaugural Ball. The principle of using the Governor’s Residence (built with public funds) to host a fund-raising event for political purposes was so universally abhorrent that legislation was enacted shortly thereafter to make political fund-raising in public facilities like the residence an illegal act. It’s ironic that a former U. S. Attorney and corruption-fighting prosecutor (and an U. S. Attorney General in waiting) would have condoned the practice in the first instance.
Gov. Casey’s first inaugural was relatively moment free. But three-days before he took his oath in 1987, the then governor-elect called on State Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer to resign following his conviction in a federal trial on a charge of corruption. (Two days after the inaugural, Dwyer shot himself to death at an unforgettable press conference in the Treasurer’s internal office before he was scheduled to depart for sentencing by the court.) The second-term Casey inaugural was interrupted by hoots, catcalls and shrill whistles from HIV-Aids protestors cordoned off on Third St. in Harrisburg just across from the inaugural platform. At one point, Casey addressed the demonstrators directly. Now that they had exercised their Constitutional right to free speech by their demonstration, he exhorted, would they please afford him the same privilege to address the people of Pennsylvania without interruption? They wouldn’t and didn’t.
Gov. Tom Ridge, Casey’s successor in 1995, was the first Governor to take his oath at the entry to the new Capitol extension in the rear of the main Capitol Building. The Act-Up protestors were present again, but this time they were cordoned off some distance from the platform. They could be heard in the background, but not sufficiently to disrupt the proceedings.
Finally, first-day initiatives—Since Pennsylvania governors in the tenures of Scranton and Shafer lived at the Indiantown Gap Military Reservation some 20 miles away, both newly sworn executives stayed their first night as Governor in downtown hotels near the Capitol. Scranton arrived at his office at 8:30 a.m. as promised. Later that day, his executive secretary, William Murphy, issued an executive order declaring the Governor’s inner staff offices “off-limits” to the press and everyone else “without appointment.” It did not sit well with the capitol correspondents, who had a relatively free run at the staff in prior administrations.
Shafer beat his predecessor to the office by 15 minutes, convened a half-hour meeting with his gubernatorial staff, an hour meeting with his cabinet and, faced with a tenuous national and state economy, announced later in the day the formation of a special tax study commission to “evaluate the immediate revenue needs of the Commonwealth.”
Shapp and Thornburgh ordered immediate freezes on the state payroll, par for the course for new governors. Gov. Casey spent his first day in office traveling to the small town of Monessen in southwestern Pennsylvania, fulfilling a campaign promise to return after he took office to demonstrate his commitment that economically stressed communities like that would not be forgotten in his administration. Gov. Rendell went each of his predecessors a giant step further. On Day One of Term Two, he unveiled a massive (47 separate legislative proposals) and comprehensive plan, almost four years in the making, to provide health care coverage to more Pennsylvanians, children and adult, at more affordable prices. .
The announcement, without question, was the most ambitious start up of any second-term governor these last 30-some years. It also was, without question, an unequivocal declaration from this governor that any one thinking he would coast in “lame duck” status through his new term had better think again. But coming from a governor so high-energy with his exemplary political and persuasive skills, it wasn’t surprising at all.
There is, however, another side to this coin. The undeniable fact is that the political and power clock begins to run on any second-term chief executive the moment he lowers his hand at the conclusion of his oath. The obstacles to success on major second term achievements are not insurmountable, to be sure. But it is undeniable that time and state history, particularly once mid-term is reached, are not on his side. The next two years will be critical to him and his stated goals.
Vincent P. Carocci covered state politics in Harrisburg during the 1960s for UPI and AP and then again in the early 1970s for The Philadelphia Inquirer. He then served on the Democratic staff of the Pennsylvania Senate for thirteen years. From 1987 to 1995 he was a senior staffer for Governor Robert Casey during his two terms in office. From 1995 to 2003 he was Director of Government Affairs for Capital Blue Cross. Now retired, he lives near Harrisburg. He is the author of A Capitol Journey
Reflections on the Press, Politics, and the Making of Public Policy in Pennsylvania.