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Low demand aborts Arkansas Inaugural Gala

by Frank E. Lockwood | January 10, 2017 at 5:45 a.m.

WASHINGTON -- The Arkansas Inaugural Gala has been canceled because of diminished demand, according to organizers.

The website of the Arkansas State Society, the group that has hosted the party for decades, says the inauguration-eve event was canceled "due to unforeseen circumstances."

Longtime society President Glenn Mahone, who also serves as gala chairman, said planners pulled the plug before the first ticket had been sold.

"Inquiries and so forth were way down [from the past]," he said.

The yardsticks he uses had suggested it would be hard to sell the tickets. "You have to go with [the] number of calls that you get, hits on your website, things of that nature," he said in an interview. "We're not at the numbers that we were during the same period four, eight, even 12 years ago."

The event, which was to cost at least $125 per ticket, had been scheduled for Jan. 19 at the National Press Club.

The website listed a long list of sponsors over the years, including Wal-Mart, Entergy and Windstream. Others who had given previously included Tyson and Alltel.

"We've supported the bipartisan Arkansas Inaugural Gala in the past; it makes sense for us to be represented with others from the Natural State," Tyson spokesman Worth Sparkman said in an email. "It's unfortunate this year's gala has been cancelled, but we're sure there will be plenty of opportunity for Arkansans to participate in other festivities related to the Presidential Inauguration."

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Mahone said it's hard for a small nonprofit group to organize this type of gala, especially if ticket sales are weak.

The price tag for one evening can reach $100,000, he said.

"Based on your food, your venue, your bands, your alcohol and all of that, that's pretty expensive," he added.

Arkansans who planned on attending the gala are now making alternative plans, according to Republican Party of Arkansas spokesman Lauren Montgomery.

Party officials say they never heard from Mahone, a former NASA official who is a longtime friend of President Bill Clinton. They learned that the event had been canceled after a notice was posted on the society's website, according to Montgomery.

"Of course people were disappointed. ... It's really unfortunate that Arkansas won't have one," she said.

Hopefully, Montgomery said, the Arkansas gala will be resurrected in time for President Donald Trump's second inauguration in 2021.

Mahone, the society's leader since the 1990s, promises that it will be revived, no matter who wins. "There's no doubt in my mind that it will," he said.

Since there's no Arkansas dance, some of the state's Trump supporters are buying tickets for the Texas State Society's Black Tie and Boots Presidential Inaugural Ball, Montgomery added.

Most states have a society in Washington, a place where their citizens living in or near the nation's capital can socialize, celebrate and network.

There's been an Arkansas State Society for a century of more, putting on social events to foster fellowship among Arkansans in Washington.

Most of the members have been Democrats. But they always threw parties regardless of the party in power.

When Dwight D. Eisenhower was sworn in in 1953, for example, the Arkansas society organized three separate inaugural events: a ball, a reception and a square dance.

They partied for Democrats, too -- especially when the president was from Arkansas.

From 1993 to 2001, with Arkansans flooding into Washington to work for the Clinton administration, the organization may have reached its zenith.

But the society was still able to draw crowds, on occasion, in recent years.

The 2009 gala, on the eve of President Barack Obama's first inauguration, drew 1,000 people, including Clinton, then-Gov. Mike Beebe and most members of the Arkansas congressional delegation.

A big crowd was on hand four years later on the eve of Obama's second inauguration.

But for the most part, the organization hasn't done much in recent years, according to Cave City native Garland Gobble, who is listed as a 2012-2013 member of the Arkansas State Society board of directors.

"It just disappeared, I think," Gobble said. "I haven't been to a meeting in 10 years."

The organization may be struggling, in part, because the political scene is evolving, Gobble said.

"I really enjoyed it for eight or nine years during the Clinton years. It was a great time. We had an annual fish fry every year," he said. "That was everybody's favorite part."

Although the Arkansas State Society was officially nonpartisan, "it was a Democratic group, primarily," Gobble said. "And that's probably the reason it faded away."

A Section on 01/10/2017

Print Headline: Low demand aborts state's inaugural gala


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