On the spring-like Sunday afternoon, just after President Barack Obama was officially sworn in for his second term at the White House, over 450 dignitaries, business people, and others with Maine connections gathered for a reception at the New Zealand Embassy. It was officially a “Luncheon to Celebrate the Inauguration of President Barack Obama.”
The event was co-hosted by the New Zealand Embassy and the Maine law firm Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios. The connection: Preti Flaherty attorney Simon Leeming also serves as one of New Zealand’s honorary consuls to New England. This year’s event was expanded to include New Hampshire and Vermont.
Severin Beliveau’s son Emmett, who has a key senior staff position within the White House, welcomed everyone on behalf of the Obama administration.
“Continuing a tradition from the last inauguration, on Saturday thousands of community service events were held all across the country, and here in DC the president and first lady worked in a local school,” he said. “And throughout the weekend, there are a number of special events to honor our service men and women.”
Four years ago, the first reception of this kind was held, and since it was so successful Severin Beliveau decided to repeat the performance, along with Obama getting reelected. Beliveau said he received so many calls after the president was reelected, asking to be on the guest list, he really had no other option. Nor did he seem to want one.
“This is my first inauguration and it is extremely moving to see this enormous celebration about everything that is good about democracy, everything about America that the world admires and looks up to and aspires to,” said Ambassador Mike Moore, who is a former prime minister of New Zealand.
Maine Huts and Trails is a venture the law firm has been working on to encourage the Maine’s ecotourism opportunities.
“Maine is developing a strong ecotourist business. In 2005 the New Zealand ambassador testified at a hearing at the state Capitol on the value of such an enterprise,” said Beliveau.
Maine Huts and Trails starts near Kingfield and is a hut-to-hut system which extends northward and eventually will cover 80 miles of adventures and comfortable accommodation. Guests can spend the night at a wooden, environmentally sustainable hut and eat a homemade meal, before they venture out to the next station along the trail. The concept is based on a famous hiking-skiing trail in New Zealand. At the party, brochure’s promoting Maine Huts and Trails were readily available.
The delicious delicacies for the buffet also served to promote the state of Maine. From oysters on the shell, smoked salmon, crab cakes, lobster chowder, and cheeses, to Maine blueberry-Cold River vodka cocktails, people enjoyed Maine’s cuisine. New Zealand served up succulent lamb.
U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, a member of President Obama’s Cabinet, spoke at the event.
“Our inauguration is a time to lay down our political swords and celebrate how blessed we are,” said Kirk. He also expressed that working with Rep. Michuad over tariff issues has led to a better balance for the Obama administration on trade.
“We have good synergy with Maine, ever since Mike challenged me to visit the beautiful state. Our friendship has clearly made trade agreements better — though we don’t always agree,” he said.
Ambassador Kirk toured the New Balance Shoe Factory in Skowhegan. He is currently negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership between the U.S. and other Pacific nations, including New Zealand.
Maine’s most influential politicians were on hand. Former Governors John Baldacci and Joseph Brennan made the rounds discussing the present state of the state, amongst other items of interest, with participants. Former Maine Sen. William Hathaway, who is now in his upper 80s, and newly elected Sen. Angus King talked about old times when King was a staffer in Hathaway’s Washington office. Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud talked about congressional challenges with many attendees.
Most of all, people really enjoyed themselves in a relaxed, friendly, laid-back Maine way.
Maine Senate President Justin Alfond presented Ambassador Moore with an official Statehouse sentiment. And Severin Beliveau gave the ambassador a book about Winslow Homer’s recent exhibit held at the Portland Museum of Art.
“It is great making connections,” said Claude Rwaganje, from the nonprofit Community Financial Literacy. “We’re excited to be attending the Inaugural and hope that the president will address immigrant, fiscal discipline issues, and making sure there is a secure safety net for those who need it. Because of Obama our economy is improving, and we need to make sure no one is left behind.”