The symbolic attraction of a country pig roast at the home of Secretary of Labor Raymond J. Donovan was irresistible, with the seasoned presence of Cabinet and Labor Department members, some union leaders, wafts of Davis-Bacon permeating the air -- and Strom Thurmond riding a mechanical bull.
"Well, I grew up on a farm," the 78-year-old senator from South Carolina said. "I'm accustomed to riding bull calves."
Thurmond drew a hearty round of applause when, in his pin-stripe pants and open-collared, white button-down, he mounted the steer like the one made famous in the film "Urban Cowboy" and rode slowly, but surely.
The mechanical ride wasn't the only attraction at the Donovans' Saturday night. "The propect of free pig," as presidential assistant Lyn Nofziger put it, seemed to be another prime motivation for attending the lavish lawn party for about 300 guests -- complete with two country and western bands, round tables with centerpieces of yellow and white daisies, a bountiful spread of salad and fruit, liquor flowing as steadily as the Potomac behind the Donovans' McLean home, and several open pits with large slabs of both pork and beef dripping fat.
"I know nothing about the Labor Department," Nofziger said. "We came to eat some of the Davis-Bacon."
And, though the evening was primarily one of "relaxation and fun," as Donovan's wife, Cathy, said they hoped it would be, the Davis-Bacon Act of 1931, which requires construction workers to be paid the "local prevailing wages" -- frequently top union scale -- on federally funded work, provided some political fat to be sociable chewed.
"I personally think it shoud be repealed," said Sen. Paul Laxalt (R-Nev.). "It's a throwback to the old days that isn't relevant any longer."
But some of the labor leaders present expressed different opinions. "He [Donovan] knows we're for the Davis-Baco," said Thomas McGuire, of the New York Operating Engineers.
Robert A. Georgine, president of the AFL-CIO building trades department, said, "I think the Secretary's a decent human being." But he continued, "The administration is misguided . . . it seems like they've already made their policy decision" on repealing Davis-Bacon. Georgine remarked that not many national labor leaders were present at the party, but said since he didn't know who had been invited, he couldn't explain their absence.
Among the labor leaders who did attend was Capt. John O'Donnell of the Airline Pilots Association ("I thought it would be totally out of character for me to wear a white hat," he said, in reference to the prevalant western dress); Jesse Calhoon, of the Marine Engineers Beneficial Association, and Joe O'Donaghue, head of the Operating Engineers in Philadelphia. "Donovan has a heck of a reputation in construction," O'Donaghue said. "I mean a good reputation -- he's a good union contractor. We know he's familiar with our industry and the problems in it. We're counting on the secretary" to protect Davis-Bacon.
Donovan, who wore a cowboy hat, jeans and a western shirt that matched his wife's said, "I invited the labor leaders who are my friends."
Conversation was spurred on by the bull, surrounded by mattresses to protect those amateur cowpersons daring enough to ride.
"Riding the bull might be harder than throwing it," presidential counselor Edwin Meese III said. "Since George Bush is from Texas, I'm waiting for him to ride, and then I'll ride."
But the vice president, dressed in a beige Cuban shirt, had previously declined similar offers. "It's not hard, anyone can do it," his wife, Barbara, said. "But I don't see why the vice president should climb up on a machine."
"I'm smart enough not to ride the bull," Secretary of the Interior James Watt said.
David ystockman, OMB director, on riding the bull: "I have another drink to go."
The business community was represented by a number of leaders, including Roger C. Sonnemann, vice president of labor relations for Amax Inc.; John Post, executive director of the Business Roundtable; Richard Lesher of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce; George A. Moore Jr., vice president of Industrial Relations for Bethlehem Steel, who said, "I think it's a very good idea to get these people together informally to talk"; and Malcolm Lovell, president of the Rubber Manufacturers' Association and a former assistant secretary of labor. Robert Bonitait, White House liaison for labor relations, also came.
What actress Valerie Perrine was doing among this mixed group was a question many guests were asking, to which her escort, Morgan Mason responded: "We're looking for some pig." Radio talk show host Larry King came because "Ray was on my show."
Long after the sun had set, speaking as a leader of operating engineers, McGuire said, "If the secretary of labor invites me, I don't care who he is, I'm coming."