© St. Petersburg Times, published January 10, 2003
OCCUPIED TALLAHASSEE -- At 1900 hours on Monday, the Republicans rolled in: the stretch limos, the stretch Hummers, the stretch SUVs, the stretch pickups. It was like Prague in 1968, only with iced tea and Spanish moss.
The local population cowered behind the ancient oaks. Leon County goes 65 to 70 percent Democratic in most elections, so this was, for them, The Invasion of the Vote-Snatchers, The Night of the Living Conservatives.
By 2100 hours, the Republicans were partying down in a giant white funeral home-type tent lit up as bright as that alien space ship in X-Files. The tent had been erected on the intramural fields of Florida State University, a patch of tired grass usually home to no event more glamorous than the annual Sigma Nu-KA football grudge match sponsored by Bud Light and Eli Lilly.
But the "Black Tie and Blue Jeans Ball" glittered like a rhinestone tiara, studded as it was with ex-presidents, ex-first ladies, wanna-be presidents, wanna-be first ladies and rich people with rich tans resembling the burnt sienna crayon in the Crayola box. They all seemed to be having a good time, making arrhythmic motions resembling dancing and congratulating themselves on achieving a repeat Republican regime, a political feat unmatched since federal troops imposed military rule in Tallahassee back in 1866.
1100 hours Tuesday morning: Out in front of the Old Capitol, it was as sunny as an Enterprise Florida brochure and as cold as a bottle of Dom Perignon. As the 245 members of the Bush clan looked on, a young woman gave a soulful rendition of the state song of Florida, Old Folks at Home. Sadly, she muffed the words to one verse. The line "still longing for the old plantation" inexplicably came out "still longing for my old connection." Perhaps she confused Stephen Foster's lyrics with a cell phone commercial.
But nothing could dampen the spirits of the crowd, most of whom had no idea the state song had anything to do with some river in North Florida, and most of whom were wearing animal pelts. Since the state is practically bankrupt (financially, spiritually) and this inauguration was supposed to be, as a Bushevik spokesman said, "modest," the ladies of Palm Beach and Miami stuck to good Republican mink coats. No Siberian snow tiger, no African cheetah: In a show of becoming simplicity, almost all left their endangered species furs at home.
Young George P. Bush acted as master of ceremonies. The dentally gifted eldest son of the governor was obviously beginning his 2016 presidential run as he introduced such guests as U.S. Housing Secretary Mel Martinez, obviously beginning his 2006 Florida gubernatorial run, and new state Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher, obviously beginning his 2004 U.S. Senate run (unless he decides to wait and run for governor in 2006).
There was a slightly uncomfortable moment when Charlie Crist, obviously beginning his 2004 U.S. Senate run, swore he was "duly qualified" to hold the office of attorney general. Many in the throng glanced up at the sky, fearful of an imminent lightning bolt. Instead, the spectators were treated to various musical interludes, such as the national anthem played on harmonica and a number by Michael W. Smith, purveyor of "contemporary Christian song," the chorus of which went, "Crucified! Crucified!"
Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan took his oath, watched proudly by his child bride, Courtney, and then the big moment arrived. Former President George H.W. Bush -- "41," as he's affectionately known to his son, current President George Bush ("43") -- introduced his son Jeb, obviously beginning his run to become "44" in 2008. George P. Bush, whose family nickname is rumored to be "45," stood by, as did his mother, Columba (beautifully dressed as ever).
After swearing to uphold the Constitution, Gov. Bush addressed the citizens, revealing his dream that one day the Capitol and the Senate and the House and all the state office buildings would be empty and that there would no longer be a need for representative government. The state would no longer have to build roads and take care of the poor and the old and clean up after hurricanes and such, but let the private sector do all that instead. And the people of the state of Florida would be happy as Apalachicola Bay oysters if they'd just do exactly as the Bushes told them.
At 1200 hours, the Bushes, the visiting dignitaries and the zoo-load of furs made their way to the Governor's Mansion for the Inaugural Carnival. There were people from NASA dressed in spacesuits. There were people from Miami dressed in ibis suits. The Florida Farm Bureau handed out free sugar cookies the size of steering wheels. The Florida Citrus Growers handed out free citrus products. The Florida Goat Association handed out free goat products. The Hooters booth, manned (if that is the right word) by an uncharacteristically covered-up employee, handed out free chicken wings.
A man with a tiny alligator in his pocket and a large alligator in his arms offered people the chance to have their picture taken with the reptiles. The big one, whose name was Al, had his jaws fastened with tape. One can't help thinking there's a metaphor for the state of Florida in there somewhere.
-- Diane Roberts is a native Tallahasseean who is working on a book about Florida called "Dream State."