Nearly seven weeks elapsed between Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s inauguration and his inaugural ball, but he assured political supporters and opponents at the latter Friday night it had nothing to do with any concerns about coups or other constitutional challenges.
“That’s what this evening is about — a peaceful transfer of power,” he told the crowd during a brief speech at the celebration at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall. “It just so happens I’m transferring power to myself.”
The three-hour event for Dunleavy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom, sworn in Dec. 5, was oddly hailed by organizers as “the first-in-state” inaugural celebration, which had reporters at a press briefing with the lieutenant governor Tuesday wondering if some out-of-state soirée escaped their notice. No, her staff assured the scribes, it just referred to the first of multiple such events being hosted by the Alaska Inaugural Committee.
The invitation invited attire “from sequins and tuxes to Carhartts and Xtratufs,” although the formal options dominated the room to the mildly expressed chagrin of one person wearing worker duds.
About 265 people attended the gathering where tickets were $100 each, making it smaller and swankier than the free legislative welcoming reception hosted by city leaders in the same space three days earlier.
The inaugural celebration featured a less lavish buffet than the community event in one corner of the room (with pulled pork/chicken sliders being swapped in for some of the earlier Mexican munchies), but with alcohol absent from Tuesday’s event available at a no-host bar at the opposite corner. Another addition was live jazz by the Southeast Swingers, fronted by Juneau singer Taylor Vidic, along with enough open space for a dance floor.
After some initial meet-and-greet mingling and a chance for donors to dine at largely assigned tables. Dahlstrom and Dunleavy said a few brief thankful and largely humorous remarks from the stage before the more carefree contributors hit the dance floor.
Dahlstrom, who had to spend her opening hours of the legislative session presiding over both legislative chambers until they selected their own leaders, thanked the House in particular for picking a Speaker Pro Tem on the opening day so she didn’t get stuck presiding over a bitterly-split chamber for weeks like her predecessor.
“I got to make a phone call to my friend Kevin Meyer and said ’What’s up with you?’” she said, poking fun at her predecessor’s getting stuck with a sustained stalemate. “It was no problem. Easy-peasy.”
She also thanked lawmakers as well as supporters for what’s started off as a smoother term for Dunleavy than his first one.
“Boy did he have some challenges,” she said. “The Legislature every now and them gave him a hard time.”
Numerous legislators who had run-ins with the governor during his first years have said he appears to be making a far greater effort to reach out both personally and politically since his reelection. Many of them were at Friday’s event and Dunleavy, during his speech, acknowledged both the inevitable differences that will have to be resolved during the months ahead and a largely shared sense of common purpose.
“It’s kind of like a family that fights a little bit,” he said. “Those of you with large families understand.”
• Contact Mark Sabbatini at firstname.lastname@example.org