Midnight oaths

Gov. Gibbons’ midnight oath, while rare, was not completely unprecedented.

In fact, Republican icon Ronald Reagan did the same thing when he became governor of California on Jan. 2, 1967. Reagan, however, did it openly. The ceremony was announced in advance, held in the rotunda of the California capitol in Sacramento with 150 witnesses, and televised statewide. Reagan quipped to fellow former movie star, U.S. Sen. George Murphy, “George, here we are on the late show again.”

Earlier, on Dec. 27, 1966, Reagan accidentally had signed an oath of office. Supposedly, he thought he was signing a loyalty oath, though an aide later said he had made it clear to Reagan that it was the official governor’s oath of office. At any rate, the accidental oath was not considered legal because he signed it when he was ineligible to do so, so he still needed to take the oath when he became so entitled.

On Jan. 9, 1923, Colorado Governor-elect William Sweet had himself secretly sworn into office at midnight to prevent his predecessor making additional appointments, then was sworn in again at the public inaugural at noon. (The secret oath taking was disclosed by the Denver Post the following April.) The same month, though not at midnight, Nevada governor-elect James Scrugham skipped the inaugural ceremonies in Carson City to attend his mother’s funeral out of state. Before he departed, he filed a post-dated oath of office. Sympathy for the governor tamped criticism of the dubious arrangement, which was never tested in court. It is not known whether Scrugham re-took the oath when he returned to the state, and because Scrugham’s fellow Democrats had swept all state offices, no one objected. On inaugural day, Lt. Gov. Maurice Sullivan became acting governor in Scrugham’s place at the instant Sullivan completed his oath.