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Here come the commuters. Welcome the cot-dwellers, the frequent fliers and the couch surfers.
Many members of the incoming freshman class — the bulk of whom campaigned against Washington — are planning to spend as little time as possible within the limits of the city they raged against. And that means not moving their families to their new city of employment.
The phenomenon of the commuting lawmaker is nothing new. But this class, particularly its Republican majority, faces competing imperatives: maintaining their outsider bona fides and the family values so important to their platform.
The many freshmen who will leave their families back home as they work in Washington do so against the counsel of some of their senior colleagues, who advise keeping family together, even if it means fewer visits to the home district.
And most do so feeling torn between work and family.
Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.) says he has long advised more junior colleagues, including members of the incoming freshman class, to bring their families to the Washington area if at all feasible. The rigors of commuting take a heavy toll on family life, he says.
“They say that a politician looks to the next election and a statesman looks to the next generation,” the Arizona Republican says. “When you have the next generation growing up literally around your knees, that becomes the main promise in your mind.”
Yet the decision of whether to move one’s family to Washington is fraught with political, financial and logistical considerations.
Franks regrets that he hasn’t followed his own advice. His wife, he says, has a “strong support system” in Arizona, and is reluctant to bring the couple’s 2-year-old twins to Washington.
“It creates a real conflict in your heart,” he says.
Most frequently, those who choose to leave their families in their districts do so to avoid the appearance of having “gone Washington.”
Cautionary tales abound. One of the most crushing blows that led to the defeat of former Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle in 2004 was a commercial accusing him of having gone native in the wilds of Washington. The devastating ad featured a looped video clip of Daschle proudly declaring “I am a D.C. resident!”
This campaign season, another Majority Leader, Harry Reid (D-Nev.), was stung by opponent Sharron Angle’s attacks on his Washington living quarters: an apartment in the Ritz Carlton.
Most freshmen say their decision to be commuting legislators was dictated in part by their families and in part by the demands of the districts they narrowly won.