Finals season is never a fun season for college students, and I’ve found myself mentally comparing it to how white tail must feel during archery season. Luckily for me, finals didn’t start until Wednesday – which meant I got to spend Monday and Tuesday cruising around Frankfort, celebrating the inauguration of Governor Matt Bevin and Lieutenant Governor Jenean Hampton. Let me tell you, it was a once in a lifetime experience. I started out Monday afternoon at the Kentucky State Police Headquarters, where we were given the task of passing out credentials to some “very important people.” We may have finished out the task by (literally) the light of cell phone flashlights, but it was so humbling to be across the table from such influential people in the realm of Kentucky politics. Little did I know, that was only just the beginning of the incredible introductions I would partake in over the course of 48 short hours.
After the general public caught wind of the fact there were to be two separate inauguration ceremonies – one private held at the Capitol at midnight Tuesday, and one public held in front of the Capitol on Tuesday afternoon – many of Bevin’s critics were quick to arms. Let me clear some things up for those who do not understand why this happens. Section 73 of the Kentucky Constitution calls for the inauguration to be held on the 5th Tuesday following the election, and many governors complete their oaths of office in a private ceremony shortly after midnight, and repeat them in a public ceremony later in the day.
I, along with a handful of other volunteers, was able to attend this private swearing in. While working the coat check at the door of the Capitol may not have been the most glamorous job of the evening, I couldn’t have been more excited to witness history in the making. Not only is Matt Bevin Kentucky’s second Republican governor in the past four decades, but Jenean Hampton is the first African American to be elected to statewide office in Kentucky history. Are y’all finally starting to see what I mean that this actually was truly a once-in-a-lifetime event to witness, or what?
Waiting patiently Ready to drop over from exhaustion near the door, waiting for those in attendance to come and retrieve their scarves and jackets (the drive from Frankfort to Louisville feels a little more daunting after a long day), a special thing happened right around 1:30 am. In the lazy river of attendees flowing out of the rotunda, so came newly sworn-in Governor Bevin. A man of such power could have easily swept past us and out the door, on to celebrate with his family and friends; it’s safe to say what happened next surprised everyone standing in the foyer.
As we all stood on and watched, with our mouths hanging wide open in shock, the Governor took the time to stop and shake the hand of every security guard and volunteer who was there. He thanked each of us individually for helping to make this memorable night a success, and even asked to take a picture with us, as his family and First Lady Glenna Bevin patiently waited and greeted us as well. People can say what they want about this man, but that is a true class act.
Tuesday morning continued the festivities with a public worship service that, while I didn’t attend (as I caught up on sleep from the night before), was a beaming success according to the 1,500 in attendance. I got to Frankfort just in time to catch the inaugural parade – even if I was too late to use my parking permit to get onto the Capitol annex due to road closures. (Side note – but I have to give a huge shoutout to the Kentucky State Police who, from that moment until I left Frankfort for the evening, saved my butt at least six times. Not to mention kept me smiling and laughing all day long, even when I got thrown into being in charge at one point.) It was such a beautiful day to share in these special moments leading up to the actual swearing in.
The public swearing in was another absolute success, and it was incredible to see the outpouring of support for everyone involved. Kentucky’s own Medal of Honor recipient, Dakota Meyer, spoke with shining praise for both the new Governor and Lieutenant Governor – both veterans. Meyer lauded Governor Bevin for his courage to stand up for what is right and what is best for Kentucky, when it would be (at least) a million times easier to give in to the other side. Lee Greenwood even made a guest appearance, delighting the crowd with a performance of his hit “God Bless the U.S.A.”
Lieutenant Governor Hampton spoke of growing up one of four daughters to a single mother in Detroit, her love of space, and childhood aspirations of becoming an astronaut. While she may not have reached those particular dreams, on her journey toward the moon she clearly landed among the stars. Hampton is not only the first African American statewide official in Kentucky, but also one of only two African American Lt. Governors in America. Can I get a Beyonce-style, “who run the world?”
Finally Governor Bevin stepped up to the podium, capturing the attention of every member of the audience – young and old alike. Bevin spoke of his love for his nine children, his love of his wife Glenna, and his love for Kentucky. The resounding message that fell upon the ears of those of us in attendance was this… “Kentucky is better than that.” As he acknowledged what may be considered shortcomings of the Commonwealth, he also shared his plans to overcome them throughout his time in office.
It was not all business and serious though, as he made playful jabs at the media and his opposition party. It was clear to see that Kentucky has elected a governor who is committed to doing the right thing, uniting his constituents as a Commonwealth (referencing on multiple occasions the state seal, which says, “United we stand, divided we fall”), and who is not afraid of hard work. Bevin shared one of my personal favorite quotations with the crowd, the words of Thomas Edison, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”
With a promise of hard work like that one, how could anyone help but to celebrate? The night continued with the traditional Grand March at the Capitol, and concluded with an event that surprised some of its guests. Rather than the traditional inaugural ball, we were treated to a “Boots and Bells” concert, featuring an opening act from Richmond’s own Elixir, and a special performance by Lee Brice.
While I am so humbled by the chance to meet and talk with some very influential people in Kentucky politics, being a people watcher, just taking in the experience was one for the books for me. I may never have another chance in my lifetime to argue college sports with coal lobbyists, share conversation over drinks with the members of the Cabinet, or dance and sing along with KSP troopers – all within a matter of just a few hours.
While the coat check may not have been the most glamorous of jobs to have, being albeit a small part of the inaugural committee was hands-down one of the coolest experiences of my life. I’m still not sure about a career in politics (I’ll leave that one up to the guys around here), seeing the government in action in a different light was a dream come true for this soon-to-be graduate of political science.
Did you watch the inauguration from home, or even join us in Frankfort? Leave a comment and tell me about it, and as always feel free to ask me any further questions!