BATON ROUGE— Gov.-elect John Bel Edwards may have cannon fire and a black-tie ball, but the approach to his Jan. 11 inaugural festivities is decidedly more understated when compared to past Louisiana governors.
Among Edwards’ immediate predecessors, Bobby Jindal had a free festival in downtown Baton Rouge. Kathleen Blanco’s team created a children’s village with costumed characters. Mike Foster had fireworks and a public picnic with food from around the state.
Edwards will keep it simpler: morning Mass, inauguration ceremony and evening ball, no added frills, all activities on one day. Maybe it’s a sign of the times when he’ll govern, with deep and widespread budget problems across state government.
“The governor-elect feels that the events we currently have scheduled are sufficient to celebrate this new day in Louisiana,” Edwards spokesman Richard Carbo said in a statement.
That’s not to suggest Edwards’ inauguration, themed “Louisiana First,” won’t have pomp and pageantry. The day’s events will follow a tightly coordinated script developed over years of such events, filled with music, bunting and patriotic touches.
A 19-round volley of cannon salute will herald Edwards after he is sworn into office on the steps of the Louisiana Capitol, along with an F-15 flyover, just like for governors before him. Mickey Mangun of the Pentecostals of Alexandria, who has performed at presidential inaugurations, will sing.
As always, the inaugural speech in which the new governor outlines his vision for the state’s future will be the centerpiece of the Jan. 11 ceremony, after Edwards takes the oath of office at noon.
Roughly 11,000 invitations have gone out for the ceremony, which is the only event also open to the general public.
“We’re encouraging people from all across the state to come,” Carbo said.
The morning Mass at St. Joseph Cathedral in downtown Baton Rouge and the inaugural ball at Celtic Studios later that night are invitation-only. Five thousand invitations were sent for the ball, Carbo said.
Over the years, Louisiana’s governors have added different touches to the festivities.
Stories were told about Earl K. Long leading a parade in a red convertible and toasting the crowd with buttermilk in 1948. Jimmie Davis belted out his signature song “You Are My Sunshine” at his inaugural ball in 1960. Edwin Edwards spoke his oath of office in English and French in 1972, as did Blanco in 2004.
Huey Long reportedly drew more than 15,000 people to watch him take the oath. Edwin Edwards had crowds topping 10,000 at some of his four inaugurations.
When Jindal took office eight years ago, he had three days of events, including a Saturday festival that included children’s activities, live music and food and a lunch with state lawmakers after the Monday swearing-in ceremony.
Four years later, Jindal moved his inauguration to the gothic Old State Capitol, on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River. He skipped the festival, but kept the legislative lunch. The governor shifted the black-tie ball a night earlier, to avoid conflicts with the college football national championship game in New Orleans, which LSU lost to Alabama.
Blanco’s festivities 12 years ago had a child-focused flair, with a village that included storytelling, displays from the zoo and aquarium and costumed characters mingling in the crowd. Her grandchildren sent out their own invitations. The public was invited to snack in the Capitol gardens on local Louisiana cuisine.
To close out his first inaugural events in 1996, Foster had fireworks after a day that included a public picnic with gumbo, fried turkey, catfish and barbecue.
Inauguration Day is a state holiday in Louisiana law. No public money pays for the events. The dollars are raised through donations, capped in law at $5,000 per person.
Edwards’ transition office hasn’t released a budget for its inauguration plans.
Costs vary and were difficult to tally until recently, when lawmakers enacted a requirement that governors file inaugural expense reports. Jindal spent about $379,000 on his second inauguration in 2012, according to documents filed with the state ethics board. Blanco’s administration estimated it spent about $500,000 on her inauguration.