Politics & Government

These Californians buck their blue state and flock to Trump inauguration

Hanford farmer Vernon Costa awoke very early to claim his seat on Inauguration Day.
Hanford farmer Vernon Costa awoke very early to claim his seat on Inauguration Day. Courtesy of Vernon Costa

California residents played many different roles on Inauguration Day.

Some paraded, like members of the Merced County Sheriff’s Posse, back for their fourth inaugural parade appearance. Some organized, like Tracy teacher West Walker, a leader of Californians for Trump. Many came as presidential inaugural novices, like former Orange Cove Mayor Pro Tem Glenda Hill.

Some protested by their actions or their absence, like Rep. Jerry McNerney of Stockton and the 14 other House Democrats from California who announced their boycotting of President Donald Trump’s swearing-in. Others took their time arriving, like Modesto resident Nancy Hinton, who took a three-day Amtrak trip.

For one and all, it was a day to remember, moment-by-moment.

8:37 a.m.

Hanford farmer Vernon Costa earned his prime seat.

A Trump delegate at the Republican National Convention, Costa awoke at 2 a.m. Friday morning and arrived, along with his daughter and his brother, at their designated ticket gate by 3:15. The night before, they’d attended a pre-inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial. After catching some quick shut-eye, they roused themselves to be the first in line.

Then, not for the last time Friday, they waited and waited and waited before being allowed to enter the Capitol grounds at about 6:30 a.m. The drizzle was just starting several hours later when Costa reported that “people are throwing on their ponchos,” but the general mood seemed sunny.

“It’s an historic time,” Costa said.

Slightly farther back from the Capitol, Fresno County insurance agent and Republican activist Michael Der Manouel Jr. had just cleared security with his wife, after taking an Uber car ride from their Georgetown hotel, and they were looking for standing space near the Reflecting Pool. Protestors near their gate had slowed their entrance, but the Trump supporters were undisturbed; it was, Der Manouel says, “pretty much the usual stuff.”

10 a.m.

West Walker turned reporter.

The Tracy teacher, who helped rally about other Trump supporters to make the trek from California, arrived at the standing-room Blue Section at around 7 a.m. Eventually, though cell phone coverage was scratchy, he began hearing from friends that the visuals from major television networks did not fully convey the crowd size he was experiencing. He started posting corrective feeds on Facebook Live, broadcasting to others and bypassing the mass media.

“It’s massive,” Walker says. “It’s like sardines.”

There was little doubt though that the crowd was smaller than either of the inaugurations of Barack Obama. And while the office of Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, received so many ticket requests that staffers had to scramble for spares from other lawmakers, some California offices, though, reported lower demand than anticipated.

“We initially received 87 requests, but not all followed through on their plans,” said Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, adding that as a result “we didn’t need to do a lottery as we’ve done in the past.”

The office of Rep. David Valadao, R-Hanford, likewise was “going to allocate tickets based on a lottery system, but ended up having a ticket for every constituent who requested one,” according to spokesperson Anna Vetter.

Some of those who snagged tickets started the festivities early, with “A Celebration of California Culture” sponsored by the California State Society on Thursday at the Ritz Carlton Hotel. Mayors, lawmakers and others sipped vintages from the Paso Robles-based JUSTIN Vineyards & Winery while they circulated at a pre-luncheon VIP Reception.

At another pre-inaugural party at the New Zealand Embassy, Fresno Mayor Lee Brand mingled with Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, and others.

10:45 a.m.

Fresno restaurant owner and attorney Nate Miller took the always delightful red-eye flight from California to arrive for his first Inauguration.

By Friday morning, as rested as could be managed, Miller was standing in the Blue Section with a lot of friendly strangers. He is close enough to identify dignitaries as they take their seats on the West Side of the Capitol; look, he reports, there’s Dick Cheney.

“It’s like one big family,” Miller said of the assembled crowd.

12:15 p.m.

President Donald Trump was saying something, but it can’t be heard in the dead-silent hallways of the Hart Senate Office Building. No one seemed to be around. Two young staffers assigned to hold down the fort in the outer third-floor office of Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein watched Trump’s inaugural address on a small screen, the sound turned down low.

1:20 p.m.

Clovis resident Robert Martin, a retired construction manager who worked on some government projects, made his way slowly back to his car, reflecting on the speech he had just heard. He and his wife Tami had been part of the red-eye flight contingent arriving from California, after deciding they wanted to attend their first inaugural.

Trump impressed him. Martin, who described himself as an early supporter of Trump’s candidacy, liked the fact that the long-time businessman’s address was short and to the point. He noted, as well, the respect that the new president commands.

“As soon as he started to speak, people fell silent,” Martin says. “Everybody was quiet, and paying attention.”

Michael Doyle: 202-383-6153, @MichaelDoyle10