A lot of people who are otherwise strong supporters of Gov. Harry Hughes are appalled that they have been asked to pay $125 to celebrate the governor's inauguration tonight.
Some of the governor's advisers convinced him that inauguration day was the right time to wipe out a $60,000 debt that remains from an otherwise successful $1 million campaign in which Hughes rolled up 62 percent of the vote in winning a second term. (The $125 ticket also gets you into the ball--$35 alone--that follows. This afternoon's formal swearing-in in Annapolis is free, but by hard-to-get invitation only.)
"And it isn't as if the cost stops at $250 a couple ," a Hughes staffer said. "You have to rent a tux, your wife is probably going to want a new dress. By the time you get done you've probably spent at least $400. I'm sure there are people who can afford that kind of thing, but they don't work in this building."
"It's the arrogance of it," a Montgomery County politician said. "Okay, he's got a debt. Fine. But don't try to make it up now. Wait six months and throw a fund-raiser. To ask people who worked for the guy all last year to come up with this kind of money now is tacky."
Hughes is quick to point out the inaugural ball itself costs only $35 a person, the dinner is clearly labeled a fund-raiser and no arms are being twisted to attend.
Hughes' press secretary Lou Panos, who, like everyone else, will pay for his tickets, said he isn't surprised at some of the mumbling and grumbling. But he said among Hughes' supporters "there are also some who feel the other way. I guess that's one of the joys of democracy."
Few are overjoyed at this particular scenario. Last week, while a Hughes staffer was explaining to a reporter that not that many politicians were upset, there was a knock at the door. Standing there was a veteran legislator, looking for advice.
"Can I get away with not buying tickets to the dinner?" he asked.
About 800 people are expected for the dinner, Panos said. As of last week, about two-thirds of the tickets were sold. But a survey of a number of legislators, all Hughes supporters, found many weren't buying and those who were thought the price was too high. This year, in contrast to four years ago, black tie is required for the ball.
One person who worked in the Hughes campaign last year said he threw his invitation away. "It's like Napoleon," he said. "The guy must think he's doing us a favor by letting us bust our butts for him. I don't buy that, and I'm not buying tickets."
Hughes always has made it clear that he will not be swayed in his political thinking by what the average pol says or by political tradition. But he has also tried to establish an austere image, driving a silver Oldsmobile rather than a black limousine and cutting some of the ruffles and flourishes that traditionally have surrounded the governor's office.
Hughes's closest political adviser always has been his wife, Patricia, who has played a major role in planning this inauguration. Hughes staffers and advisers often have resented the role she plays in creating the Hughes image but grudgingly admit that more often than not her advice is good and her political instincts are correct.
But this time the consensus is that the Hugheses may be going a little too far in what they are asking of people.
"Throw a fund-raiser at Martin's West in six months for $50 a pop to make up the debt. People will understand that," one campaign staffer said. "But on the night you are inaugurated you should just say thank you to people. This is not the way to do it." CAPTION: Picture, Gov. Harry Hughes out to retire $60,000 debt.