State’s inau­gu­ra­tions have had mem­o­rable mo­ments

The Oklahoman - - NEWS - BY MICHAEL OVER­ALL Tulsa World michael.over­[email protected]­

Im­peached partly for putting Tulsa un­der martial law to crack down on the Ku Klux Klan, John Cal­loway Wal­ton served the short­est term of any gov­er­nor in state his­tory. But he also had the grand­est in­au­gu­ra­tion.

More than 160,000 peo­ple — an un­prece­dented crowd for Jan­uary 1923 — at­tended the pa­rade and feasted on 15 va­ri­eties of bar­be­cue at the State Fair­grounds in Ok­la­homa City. Work­ers dug a trench more than a mile long to cook tons of meat in open pits.

The only gov­er­nor en­dorsed by the overtly so­cial­ist Farmer-La­bor Re­con­struc­tion League, Wal­ton cracked down on the Klan, even though he was said to be a mem­ber of the KKK him­self. He cer­tainly ap­pointed Klans­men to high of­fices.

The state con­sti­tu­tion didn't al­low a gov­er­nor to sus­pend the writ of habeas cor­pus, but he did it any­way in Tulsa County, where he even placed a cen­sor at the Tulsa Tri­bune, vi­o­lat­ing the First Amend­ment. The Leg­is­la­ture ousted him af­ter less than a year in of­fice.

In 1927, only 20,000 peo­ple at­tended Henry John­son 's in­au­gu­ra­tion. But he was the first to open the cer­e­monies with a prayer and the first to have his in­au­gu­ral speech broad­cast on ra­dio.

Gov. John­son threw his sup­port be­hind Demo­cratic nom­i­nee Al Smith in the 1928 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. But Repub­li­can Her­bert Hoover won in a land­slide, help­ing sweep in a Repub­li­can ma­jor­ity in the Ok­la­homa Leg­is­la­ture. And as soon as the new Leg­is­la­ture met in reg­u­lar ses­sion in 1929, law­mak­ers im­peached him for "gen­eral in­com­pe­tence."

Roy Turner be­came the first gov­er­nor to make a tele­vised speech; but it came in 1949, not dur­ing his in­au­gu­ra­tion in 1947. His suc­ces­sor, John­ston Mur­ray, was the first to have TV cam­eras at his swear­ing-in cer­e­mony in 1951.

Mur­ray's wife, Wil­lie, hoped to suc­ceed him in of­fice but failed to win the 1954 Demo­cratic pri­mary. So in­stead of run­ning for gov­er­nor, she di­vorced him.

At age 33, David Boren be­came the na­tion's youngest gov­er­nor when sworn into of­fice Jan. 12, 1975. And to re­flect his rel­a­tive youth, the in­au­gu­ral ball at Ok­la­homa City's Myr­iad Con­ven­tion Cen­ter was the first to promi­nently fea­ture a heavy dose of rock mu­sic. Live per­form­ers in­cluded the new gov­er­nor's cousin, folk singer-song­writer Hoyt Ax­ton.

Boren left of­fice five days early, of­fi­cially re­sign­ing at 11:59 p.m. Jan. 2, 1979, to be­gin his first term as a U.S. se­na­tor.

Ge­orge Nigh was the gov­er­nor-elect, but the state con­sti­tu­tion makes no pro­vi­sion for the gov­er­nor-elect to take of­fice early. So with Boren's res­ig­na­tion, the lieu­tenant gov­er­nor be­came gov­er­nor.

Of course, Nigh was also Boren's lieu­tenant gov­er­nor, so he took of­fice early af­ter all, even though he didn't for­mally take the oath of of­fice un­til nearly a week later.

In fact, when Nigh fi­nally took the oath, he was tech­ni­cally be­gin­ning his third term in of­fice. As lieu­tenant gov­er­nor in 1963, Nigh had served in the gov­er­nor's of­fice for a week af­ter J. Howard Ed­mond­son left early to join the U.S. Se­nate.

Af­ter tak­ing the oath on the south steps of the State Capi­tol, Nigh peeled off a black leather glove to re­veal the notes for his speech writ­ten on his left hand.


Ge­orge Nigh, left, and J. Howard Ed­mond­son ex­change smiles in Jan­uary, 1963, af­ter cer­e­monies in the state Capi­tol dur­ing which Nigh was sworn in as gov­er­nor. He served about a week while Ed­mond­son went to Wash­ing­ton to be­gin his term as a U.S. se­na­tor. Henry Bell­mon be­came gov­er­nor about a week later. Nigh would go on to serve two terms as gov­er­nor from 1979 to 1987.

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