Final touches for inauguration of Crist are made

Published: Tuesday, January 2, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 1, 2007 at 11:20 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — Workers readying the Capitol for this week's inauguration put the finishing touches on lighting and a stage that will be the setting when Charlie Crist takes the oath of office for governor today.

In a light rain, workers also arranged chairs for spectators on the front lawn of the Old Capitol building, where Crist will take the oath from Florida Chief Justice Fred Lewis before delivering his inaugural address.

Then, Crist will join in a parade from the Capitol to the governor's mansion, where he will live at least the next four years.

There will also be a 19-gun salute by Florida National Guardsmen and a jet flyover as Crist takes over from Gov. Jeb Bush, who twice stood in the same setting and took the oath. Crist will become Florida's 44th governor.

The timing of the inauguration can't be altered, even though it comes a day after a holiday and on a day the nation officially mourns former President Gerald Ford, who died last week. The state constitution sets the governor's swearing in as the first Tuesday after the first Monday in January.

The ceremony and accompanying activities are expected to take place on a mostly clear day, after a weekend of steady rain in Tallahassee. Temperatures are forecast in the mid-60s.

It's also expected to be festive and free of the protest that had been threatened by the NAACP, which had planned to picket to draw attention to the case of a Panama City boy who died after a confrontation with guards at a juvenile boot camp.

The group had said in the fall that it planned to protest the event because they believed state officials were dragging their feet in investigating the case, and because no charges had been filed.

But with charges filed in November against the guards involved in the case, the group called off its protest. Group members also noted that their complaints were about events on Bush's watch — and that Crist has been willing to meet with them.

"I think the national, along with the state NAACP, have come together to decide, let's see what's really on the pad for this new governor," NAACP Florida spokeswoman Anita Davis said last week.

Crist, who will be the first unmarried governor to take the oath since Claude Kirk in 1966, will be joined by other family members at his inauguration. Bush's family will also be on the stage.

Also being sworn in today will be members of the state Cabinet: Agriculture Commissioner Charlie Bronson, Attorney General Bill McCollum, and Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink.

Jeff Kottkamp will take the oath of office as the new lieutenant governor.

Thousands of free tickets have been distributed for inaugural festivities and events, including a prayer breakfast at Florida A&M University that will begin the day. Celebration events at the governor's mansion will also be open to the public, said the inaugural committee's executive director, Meredith O'Rourke.

Crist has repeatedly said he plans to be "the people's governor," and the inaugural with its openness is following the theme. Crist decided not to hold an inaugural ball after criticism about large private donations that were going to pay for it.

"People from all different backgrounds, all different communities across the state are coming to Tallahassee and we're excited about welcoming them to Tallahassee to participate in the inaugural," O'Rourke said.

She said the inaugural's total budget, now that the ball is canceled, is going to be under $1 million.

Although the oath is traditionally taken at noon, legally, Crist actually could take the oath anytime today after 12:00 a.m.

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