Glitzy Texas Inaugural Ball Now More Laid Back

Move over Longhorn steer and longneck beers. Make room for tropical luaus and Chicago dogs.

The exit of President George W. Bush is a swan song for Texas and all its excess that has dominated the Washington scene the past eight years. President-elect Barack Obama's home states of Hawaii and Illinois are now the rage.

The Texas Black Tie & Boots ball Monday night, though not an official inaugural ball, was one of the hottest inaugural tickets in 2001 and 2005. The ball is thrown by Texas expatriates wanting to celebrate their state on a Texas scale.

In 2005, tickets were oversold and the Texas State Society sent refunds because the party crowd hit capacity and threatened to break fire code limits. Tickets were on sale on eBay for hundreds more than face value.

Fast forward to this year, when tickets to the Texas ball were going for $200 last week on Craigslist -- even though ball organizers were still selling them for $300 each. Ticket sales ended Sunday night.

This year Texans -- like Bush -- are not the center of the celebration. The ball is being held outside the district, about 15 minutes drive south of the district in Prince George's County Maryland.

"Texans are absolutely not the story this year except for Bush coming home," said Bill Miller, an Austin Republican consultant.

Jennifer Sarver, one of the Texas ball organizers, rejected suggestions the Texas party's popularity has plunged with that of Bush. She said organizers planned a year ago to hold the soiree at the newly opened Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center on the banks of the Potomac River, calling it a Texas-sized location.

"It was a gamble to move out of the district. Now we look like geniuses, given how hard it is to get around the district" with road closures and expectations of overloaded public transportation, Sarver said.

But she acknowledged that less splash surrounds this year's event. Sarver said the ball will be less Dallas and more Austin -- Democrat and laid back, not Republican and glitzy.

No live Longhorn steer. Instead, there will be Shuttle Endeavor astronauts.

"I think that's a reflection of not having the president in the White House and the economy. Sponsorship was as not easy to come by. There are people who have lost their jobs," she said. "You're not going to see the hysteria you saw last time, but I think it's going to be more enjoyable because of that."

All of Texas' statewide elected officials are Republicans and most didn't plan to attend. One top Texan skipping the event was Gov. Rick Perry, who planned to welcome Bush back to Texas in Midland.

But Republicans in Washington still were on the list of attendees, such as Sens. John Cornyn, this year's president of the Texas State Society, and Kay Bailey Hutchison, both Republicans.

"When Texans gather it's always fun," Hutchison said.

As of Friday, 11,500 tickets had been sold. Sarver said the party still landed some good corporate sponsors who could pledge between $15,000 for 15 tickets and other benefits to $50,000 for 50 tickets, access to VIP areas and other perks.

In the run-up to the ball, western wear shops have also experienced the Texas fade. When Bush was being feted, local retailers said boots and Western gear were flying off the shelves.

But Sue Kim, manager of WJ Colt & Co. western wear shop in Springfield, Va., said she's not getting much inauguration ball traffic this year.

"This time we do have some still," Kim said. "But not like it was before."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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