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. House Leader Harris Orders up Separate Inaugural Invites for Dems

December 03, 2004
By: Ben Welsh
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - There will be at least two different invitations printed up for Governor-elect Matt Blunt's inauguration, though neither will be required to gain admission.

The official invitations to the Jan. 10 ceremonies -- for which no ticket is required -- are being sent out by John Hancock and Associates, a firm that advised Blunt during his campaign. Hancock has requested that all legislators turn in a list of those they wish to invite and pay a $2.50 charge per invitation.

Many Democrats are reluctant to hand over the names and addresses of their supporters to Hancock, who in the past has served as an official spokesman for the state Republican party. House Minority Leader Jeff Harris is organizing an alternative invitation for Democrats which he said will charge legislators 22 cents per invitation before postage.

"In an era where privacy needs to be zealously guarded, we want to make sure we maintain the privacy of the names of those folks we want to send our invitations to," said Harris, of Columbia.

John Hancock, who has served as spokesman for the state Republican party, said the organizing effort had no political motivation.

"The reality is that every supporter of every candidate is a public record anyway," Hancock said. "We have made it very clear that these lists are not going to be used for any purpose other than the inauguration and if they're not comfortable with that it's completely understandable."

Sen. Maida Coleman of St. Louis, the Democrats' floor leader in the Senate, said she hadn't spoken with Harris about the issue but that her party's activities shouldn't be placed under Blunt's supervision.

"Since when did we come under this type of dictatorship that someone else would handle our mailing for us?" Coleman said. "There's no justification for it."

Following the elections, both Coleman and Blunt were quick to promise bipartisan cooperation in the upcoming legislative session. Despite the partisan divide on this issue, Coleman said she doesn't see it as a continuation of the wrangling which jammed up the General Assembly earlier this year.

"I don't think it has anything to do with politicking or positioning. I think it has to do with common sense," she said. "Why does the governor-elect's office need other people's mailing lists. We should send out our own invitations."

Paul Sloca, a spokesman for Blunt's transition office, said charging lawmakers to send out the invitations is part of an effort to save taxpayer money.

"We're trying to keep cost to the state down," Sloca said. "The best way to do that is get sources of funding elsewhere."

Sloca said the transition office hasn't yet put together an estimate for how much the event would cost, but guaranteed that it would be less expensive than the $1 million party thrown by Gov. Bob Holden in 2000, which was mostly financed by private fund raising but drew about $120,000 from the state budget.

While there is no money earmarked specifically for the inauguration in this year's budget, funds could still be drawn from the money allocated to the governor's office and elsewhere. Hancock could not rule out taxpayers footing the bill for other costs but promised a full public accounting of all expenses.

Blunt's inaugural ceremonies will begin with a public prayer service at 9 a.m. followed by a parade leading to the Capitol's south steps where he will be sworn in at noon. A public reception is scheduled in the governor's mansion at 2pm and at 8 there will be a ballroom gala in the Capitol rotunda.

Sloca said the general public is welcome to attend the ceremonies and that the invitations are strictly ceremonial.

"This is just a thank you," Sloca said. "I think it's nice to receive an invitation in the mail."

MDN reporter David Ferrucci contributed to this report.