LINCOLN — The state’s political elite laid aside their partisan differences Saturday night to celebrate the election of Republican Pete Ricketts to a second term as governor.
Almost 2,000 people dined on flank steak covered with a mushroom port demi-glace sauce and beef tenderloin roulade at the inaugural ball on a chilly and snowy night at Pinnacle Bank Arena.
The ball, held every four years after the election of the governor, is almost a must-attend event for supporters of the governor, lobbyists and politicians — of all political stripes.
“That’s what I love about the governor’s ball — no one has a side,” said former State Sen. Kent Rogert, now a lobbyist.
To prove the point, he showed a cellphone photo taken earlier in the evening of two former governors and U.S. senators, Democrat Ben Nelson and Republican Mike Johanns having a friendly chat.
Ricketts, the son of the founder of TD Ameritrade and a member of the Chicago Cubs board of directors, told the crowd that the ball was a celebration of the entire state, not just his re-election.
“We have the best place in the nation to live, right here,” he said to applause.
First lady Susanne Shore introduced her husband after relating the story of their first date. She said it was her plan to return to her native Oklahoma after graduating from nursing school at Creighton University, and despite a great first date, she wasn’t planning to go on a second.
But she did, and Shore said she and her husband have been “honored to serve the state of Nebraska and given the opportunity to make the world a better place.”
The first lady wore an off-the-shoulder red gown produced by a friend at Mira Couture in Chicago. Tuxes and beaded gowns were the common dress, bouquets of red roses topped every table, and huge beaded curtains in the center of the arena provided the look of a ballroom chandelier.
Besides Nelson and Johanns, former Gov. Kay Orr — whose grandson Taylor Gage is Ricketts’ main spokesman — got a loud ovation during the ball’s “grand march” of politicians and judges.
Sen. Deb Fischer also got loud applause — louder than that for her colleague, Sen. Ben Sasse.
Also getting an enthusiastic round of applause was former Rep. Hal Daub, who was recently defeated for re-election to the University of Nebraska Board of Regents.
State Sen. Dan Quick of Grand Island said he was excited and honored to attend his first inaugural ball.
“I’d probably never have an opportunity to be invited if I wasn’t a state senator — I was a welder at a power plant,” Quick said.
His wife, Alice, who wore a beaded, black gown, said it was exciting for her, too.
“Girls like to get dressed up and put glittery things on,” she said.
Regan Anson, who helped coordinate the ball, said the governor’s only request was that beef be served — and 1,276 pounds of flank steak and 50 beef tenderloins were ordered.
A total of 1,973 dinners were served, and Anson said about 2,200 tickets were sold.
The snowy weather might have reduced attendance, she said. Four years ago, about 2,800 people attended the ball after Ricketts’ initial election.
The ball is funded by donations as a break-even event, Anson said. Any leftover funds will be donated to charity, she said.