Walker could hardly wait to get sworn in Monday.
It was hard not to be impressed, even a bit moved. Gov. Scott Walker's inauguration contained enough pomp and circumstance to draw a snide remark from one of the reporters in attendance ("Isn't he supposed to be the frugal one?") but it also clearly marked the beginning of a new era in Wisconsin government.
Hundreds of people packed the balconies of the Capitol Rotunda for the hour-long event. A half-dozen musical acts took turns before and during the ceremony, playing songs like "On, Wisconsin," "The Star Spangled Banner" and "America the Beautiful." My favorite was an accordion and brass band that belted out a ditty about the Green Bay Packers "going to the Super Bowl." A close second was the youth choir that performed "The Age of Aquarius," outstretched hands marking arcs across the sky.
I got to the event almost two hours early, because Walker's camp never got around to actually getting me promised press credentials. I thought I might have to make a scene and get dragged from the building on my face, screaming "Attica!" and hoping people would catch my cultural reference.
As it turned out, I was given a press pass for the asking and got to the roped-off press area long before the festivities began. At 11 a.m., an hour before showtime, I wandered back to the governor's office down the hall, where Jim Doyle and Scott Walker and their wives were slated to have a photo op.
To my surprise, that was really all it was -- no speeches, no questions, just the dignitaries milling about in front of a knot of reporters. I spent the whole time trying to get a good photo of Walker and Doyle through the view screen of the camera held by the guy in front of me while also getting the outgoing and incoming governors in my photo. Check the photo gallery to see how I did.
Back in the press area, I staked out a spot in front, directly across from the ceremony. The event took place in front of the Capitol's North Gallery, which is unusual. Past inaugurations have been staged in front of the East Gallery, just outside of the governor's office, by the bust of "Fighting" Bob La Follette. Throughout the ceremony, Fighting Bob glared at the proceedings off to Walker's left.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the only state constitutional officer slated to be sworn in who skipped the event was Doug La Follette, who was narrowly reelected secretary of state. La Follette, a shirttail relative of Fighting Bob, was also the only Democrat of the bunch, which included Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch.
A stir went through the press gallery as someone spotted Scott Jensen, the former state Assembly Speaker who only last month wiggled out from under felony misconduct charges filed in 2002. (The first media member to notice posed his observation as a question: "Is that fucking Scott Jensen?") Jensen was seated near the front, almost as close as the former governors who attended and right next to Walker's brother David and his wife. I got a bunch of good photos of that.
God was mentioned often, and duly credited. William Patrick Callahan, the bishop of La Crosse, giving the benediction, implored the Guy in the Sky, "Help our new governor and lieutenant governor to be generous public servants and courageous leaders." He also prayed for God's guidance "as we forage through the vagaries of economic distress and social restructuring." I am not making this up.
Attorney General Van Hollen, in an otherwise dignified address, called the Capitol "an awesome place" and Walker's election "an awesome opportunity." He said of being sworn into office, "If it is no longer an awesome experience, then it is time to move on in life."
Who is writing this guy's speeches? Bill and Ted?
After Kleefisch took her oath, Walker stood up for his, but he had to sit back down again as the emcee announced that there would first be a musical performance. The Falls Baptist Church Men's Choir did the day's second rendition of "America the Beautiful."
Walker also jumped the gun, sort of, for his swearing in. His right hand was in the air a good three seconds before Shirley Abrahamson, the chief justice of the Wisconsin Supreme Court, told him to raise it. The guy can hardly wait.
"It is with great honor that I stand before you," Walker said when it was his turn to speak. "I am your servant."
I briefly considered shouting for him to get me something for lunch, but it turns out that Walker didn't need any help lowering the loftiness of the occasion. Practically the next words out of his mouth were, "As your governor, I make this pledge: Wisconsin is open for business." (See the full text of the speech here)
Really? That's the high holy purpose Scott Walker is bringing to this occasion? You betcha. "My priorities are simple: jobs, jobs and more jobs."
Walker declared: "It is through frugality and moderation in government that we seek freedom and prosperity for our people." He announced he would call the Legislature into special session yet today to pass his economic reforms by February. He promised there will be no tax increases, which would "counter our efforts to provide economic growth." He quoted Ronald Reagan: "As government expands, liberty contracts." He pinpointed Wisconsin's fundamental problem: "What's failing us is the expanse of government." And of course he ended by asking God to bless those in attendance and "the great state of Wisconsin."
I clapped for him, as I did for speakers and performers throughout the event. I noticed that none of the other media people did this, which struck me as impolite. After all, this was Scott Walker's day, and now it is his turn to lead.