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Conservatives celebrate McDonnell inauguration

By Fredrick Kunkle
Sunday, January 17, 2010; A10

RICHMOND -- Mixing the syncopated rhythms of college marching bands and the precise drill of Virginia Military Institute cadets, Republican faithful in blue blazers and former Washington Redskins cheerleaders in team colors, thousands of people gathered on Virginia's historic Capitol grounds Saturday to see the inauguration of Gov. Robert F. McDonnell.

The crowd, packed mostly into the 4,800 seats arrayed around the Capitol's south portico, was treated to Native American ceremonial dances, a fife and drum corps, bagpipers and a flyover by four Virginia National Guard F-22s. Other celebrants lined the parade route that began at Jefferson Street and proceeded down East Grace Street to the Capitol grounds.

From an oak grove south of the portico, the Guard also touched off a deafening 19-gun salute from a battery of its artillery as McDonnell, 55, a former state attorney general and lawmaker from Virginia Beach, became the commonwealth's 71st governor.

Jason Cowan of Beaverdam walked the mile-long parade route preaching the Gospel and carrying a 7-foot-tall handmade cross. He said he was not conversant in the details of McDonnell's policies but had voted for him because of his conservative philosophy.

"He stands for the closest thing to a biblical model of governing," said Cowan, 30.

Conservatives thrilled on Saturday to the return of Republicans to the governor's mansion after eight years of Democratic leadership.

"I like his conservative values. I would like to see the country move away from providing support to people who are not working," said Beth Orr, a librarian from Virginia Beach whose 22-year-old son Jimmy marched with the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets Highty-Tighties. Although government should help people who are truly needy, she said, "I believe there is a huge section of people just waiting for a handout."

McDonnell's term began on a fairly warm day with an abundance of color and contrasts in the crowd.

Dressed like the Statue of Liberty and wearing a crown of green foam, Mikita Stewart, 35, circulated through the crowd, handing out advertising fliers -- a job that she said had allowed her to leave a homeless shelter and get an apartment.

Veterans saluted as solemn-faced VMI cadets, wielding rifles and clad in gray winter coats with purple sashes, closed up and halted to allow Virginia State University's Trojan Explosion marching band -- featuring dancers in orange hot pants -- to exit the grounds to a funky drum cadence.

John C. Brennan Jr., 47, said he and his two sons -- John C. Brennan III, 10, and Joe, 8 -- went to the inauguration as much to get out of their house in Richmond on a nice day as to see history in the making.

"I'm for Bob McDonnell mainly for fiscal restraint," said Brennan, a salesman in the financial management division of SunTrust Bank. "I also support lower taxes. I think less is more."

Waving a large plastic flag, Lori Cousins, 48, said she hoped that McDonnell's administration would provide a check on the growing intrusions of government, particularly at the federal level.

"I just think it's about small government, the rule of law and just conservative values," Cousins said, adding that she also hoped that McDonnell would push Virginia to curb illegal immigration.

Her daughter Autumn, 27, said they also supported McDonnell in the hopes that he would fight the high taxes that drove them to move from Fairfax County to Orange County about five years ago.

Here and there were also people whose politics differed sharply from McDonnell's.

Near the entrance to the Capitol grounds, Breanne Armbrust and several members of Virginia People's Assembly held a banner urging the new governor to promote jobs and force major corporations to pay their fair portion of taxes, among other progressive causes. "No To Budget Cuts and Layoffs!" the banner said. "Make The Big Corporations Pay Their Fair Share!"

Armbrust, a union organizer from Richmond, said she was pleased that McDonnell seemed lukewarm to talk about possibly cutting corporate income taxes but was still wary of the new governor's goals. She also said she saw no signs that the governor had tried to scale back the celebrations because of the weak economy.

"It still seems to be just as grandiose as a normal inauguration," Armbrust said.

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