By Kate Alexander
WASHINGTON – While most of the inaugural gala guests wore traditional black-tie attire, Hamilton L. Robinson of Bethesda donned a Stetson hat and cowboy boots to honor the new head honcho in the White House.
After nearly 70 years in Maryland’s Republican Party, he knew an occasion of this magnitude deserved some special accessories.
Robinson, a one-time advance man for President Eisenhower, was not alone in his appreciation of the moment. He joined 600 other Maryland Republicans who basked in the their own sliver of the inaugural limelight Thursday evening at a gala event that party leaders called the state GOP’s “coming-out party.”
State GOP Chairman Michael Steele said the black-tie event at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce ballroom was the first time the state party had sponsored an inaugural gala, and it did so to bolster the party’s standing in Maryland as well as nationally.
“This is our coming-out party. The Maryland Republican Party has arrived on the national stage,” he said.
As if to punctuate that statement, the guests were welcomed by former President George Bush and his wife, Barbara. They popped in to join their daughter Dorothy Bush Koch, a Montgomery County resident and the gala hostess, to thank the party loyalists for their work on the presidential campaign.
The party-building and fund raising from this event is intended to help to elect more Republicans to political office in Maryland.
“We have been beat up so much, I want people to feel good about being Republicans,” said Steele, who was elected as party chairman in December and is the only African-American to hold that position in the country.
Maryland Republicans have long been overshadowed by Democrats, who control the State House, both U.S. Senate seats and half of the congressional delegation. But from the mood of the room, people were feeling quite good about being Republicans.
John Emens, president of the greater Washington region for Allfirst Bank, said the Republicans were teeming with excitement after spending eight years “in the wilderness.”
And Frank Howard, who was the liaison between the state party and the Bush campaign, said this event was a perfect opportunity for the Maryland party to “build itself up in preparation for the 2002 election.”
Past the two golden elephant statuettes that stood near the door, guests were entertained by the Gatlin Brothers. The country-western trio said the inauguration of their longtime friend, George W. Bush, had prompted them to perform together for the first time in two years. Their tunes even inspired Koch to put on cowboy boots with her ball gown.
In addition to the Bush family, political leaders at the Maryland gala included Labor Secretary-designate Elaine L. Chao, her husband Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Rep. J.C. Watts Jr., R-Okla. Maryland leaders in attendance included GOP Reps. Robert Ehrlich of Timonium, Connie Morella of Bethesda and Roscoe Bartlett of Frederick.
The event was paid for by several corporate sponsors and ticket prices ranged from $250 for the gala to $1,000 for a VIP reception that the senior Bush briefly attended.