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Officials maintain tradition of start-of-session celebration
JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A swing band donated its music. The soda pop and snacks were gratis. Still, as Sen. John Griesheimer smoothed a tuxedo lapel, he fretted that his rented touch of style didn't fit Missouri government's no-frills message.
"It's a tradition to get dressed up, to celebrate the arrival of the new members of the Legislature, so I'm doing it," said Griesheimer, R-Washington.
"But the budget situation is so bleak, the celebration won't last long," he said. "On Thursday, it's back to business and the tux goes back, too."
Lawmakers kept up the tradition Wednesday evening. First came the National Anthem. Accompanied by lush orchestral tunes, the lawmakers and their spouses or significant others marched down the Capitol Rotunda's curving stairs.
After about 90 minutes of stair-descending fanfares, whoops and cheers greeted the top legislative leaders.
Then the orchestra struck up the "Missouri Waltz," the official state song and a tradition at Capitol events, as couples began dancing under the soaring dome.
Newly minted House Speaker Catherine Hanaway, R-Warson Woods, whirled around the marble floor in the arms of her husband, Christopher, and their 4-year-old daughter, Lucy.
"It's been a great day, but it weighs heavily on me that the real work begins Thursday," Hanaway said.
Republicans had reason to celebrate. Starting with Wednesday's opening session, they controlled the House and Senate for the first time since Dwight D. Eisenhower was in the White House.
"It represents two generations of hard work by a lot of Republicans," said the new Senate majority leader, Mike Gibbons, R-Kirkwood. "We've been clamoring for the opportunity to lead and now we have a chance to lead."
Democrats were welcome, too, although their role was diminished after years as the majority party. Hanging over the whole event was an estimated $300 million revenue gap in this year's budget and projections of a $1 billion shortfall for next year.
Freshman Rep. Jodi Stefanick, R-Ballwin, said she considered the ball a chance to celebrate an election victory before getting down to state business. "Then you get to celebrate it with everyone else who's done the same thing -- it's just nice," she said.
Hanaway issued a list of party expenses totaling about $9,300 for the ball -- all coming from private funds.
A Coca-Cola distributor donated beverages, while the Jerry Ford Orchestra -- led by a former lawmaker from Cape Girardeau -- provided the music.
Republicans noted the contrast from Democratic Gov. Bob Holden's inaugural party two years ago, which cost more than $1 million, a state record. Holden's bash, including custom-made chocolate bars with his inaugural slogan, was mostly financed with private funds, too. But Holden ran up such a large debt that it took about six months to pay all the bills.
Holden kept his schedule low-key until Wednesday evening, opening the governor's office for a receiving line but not a feast. "I think he may have some mints on hand," said his spokeswoman, Mary Still.
Later, Holden and first lady Lori Hauser Holden were applauded as they appeared hand-in-hand at the top of the staircase, then paused for photographers at the bottom step.
"Looks like they've had a festive time and I hope they have a good evening," said the governor, attired in a tuxedo.
"It's a very nice event," Mrs. Holden said.