FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - Steve Beshear arrived at the Capitol in a horse-drawn carriage Tuesday morning for his first day as governor - a day filled with the pomp of inaugural festivities for a man who had given up on politics only to make an unplanned comeback.
Beshear and his wife, Jane, were greeted with cheers, whistles and the first rays of sunshine to fall on Frankfort after five days of rain as they turned onto Capitol Avenue in the green wooden carriage pulled by two huge black horses.
"I brought the sun," a jesting Beshear told well-wishers lining the sidewalks.
Beshear was sworn in as Kentucky governor in a private midnight ceremony in the Executive Mansion, completing an unlikely political comeback 20 years after he last held an elective office.
Beshear, 63, has said he thought his political career was over long ago. But he reconsidered at the urging of friends and political advisers. He went on to win a crowded Democratic primary and toppled incumbent GOP candidate Ernie Fletcher in a lopsided victory Nov. 6.
Fletcher, who was the first Republican elected Kentucky governor in more than 30 years, had been politically weakened by an indictment charging that he rewarded politically connected Republicans with jobs at the expense of Democrats.
Thousands of people lined the streets of Frankfort to catch a glimpse of the state's 61st governor in an inaugural parade that began about 10 a.m. EST.
Alexis Seymore, a school superintendent from Dawson Springs where Beshear grew up and one of the spectators, said the new governor is an inspiration to small-town children because he has proven that they can do anything they set their minds to.
"It's just a great example," Seymore said.
After losing his first attempt at the job in 1987, Beshear had given up aspirations of becoming governor. However, the Lexington attorney made an unplanned return to Kentucky politics earlier this year, jumping into the governor's race after trying unsuccessfully to persuade other prominent Democrats to run.
"This is a prime example of how strange things happen in life," Beshear said just after being sworn in early Tuesday. "We're going to face some challenging times in the days and months ahead but, my friends, I will tell you right now, we're going to be successful."
Joe Gershtenson, director of the Center for Kentucky History and Politics at Eastern Kentucky University, said Beshear pulled off a remarkable feat by returning to state politics after such a long absence.
"It's got to be a nice feeling," he said.
Beshear, surrounded by his family, was sworn in by Supreme Court Justice Bill Cunningham just after midnight. With his hand on a white family Bible held by his wife, Beshear repeated Kentucky's traditional and archaic constitutional oath. In addition to a customary vow to uphold the law, the oath required Beshear to swear that he has never fought a duel with deadly weapons - a holdover from Kentucky's frontier days, one that drew snickers from the 120 people invited to watch the ceremony in the mansion ballroom.
Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo was sworn in with the same oath by Court of Appeals Chief Judge Sara Walter Combs immediately afterward with his fiance, Allison Patrick, at his side.
Brig. Gen. Edward W. Tonini was also sworn in as adjutant general for the Kentucky National Guard. Other members of Beshear's administration will be sworn in on Wednesday.
Beshear and his family attended a morning religious service in downtown Frankfort, during which ministers prayed for Beshear and Mongiardo to lead the state with strength and courage during the next four years.
In his inaugural address outside the Capitol, Beshear called for unity after a divisive election year.
"We have come through the time-honored American rite of a hard-fought campaign," he said. "As a result, it is easy to see what divides us. Instead, what I want to see, and what I do see today, is what unites us."
Beshear and Mongiardo also repeated their oaths in a ceremonial swearing in as part of the public inaugural events.
The son of a Baptist preacher, Beshear climbed the political ladder in the 1970s and 1980s as a state lawmaker, attorney general and lieutenant governor. He lost in his first run for governor in 1987, then failed in a 1996 run for the U.S. Senate.
After that, he had faded from the political scene.
"He is very excited," spokeswoman Vicki Glass said. "He's looking forward to helping make Kentucky a better place. He's ready to hit the ground running."
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
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