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Meehan Finds Not a Moment to Waste

Tom Williams/Roll Call

Roll Call begins an occasional series profiling Republican freshmen who helped the party win back the majority in 2010.

He is racing through the dark hallways of the Capitol Visitor Center, a small entourage trying to keep up.

There isn’t a moment to waste.

For many years, Patrick Meehan was one of the most powerful lawyers in Pennsylvania. But he is just another GOP freshman here. And his ability to ask an early question in his first Homeland Security Committee hearing depends on how fast he can navigate the intestines of the Capitol.

“You’re like a freshman in high school again in a big campus,” he later reflected. “You still sometimes open a door and there you are saying, ‘Oh my God, this is the cleaning room. I thought I was walking to an elevator.’ You kind of laugh about it.”

But there is no laughing on this recent Wednesday morning, especially with Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano waiting.

Meehan and three staffers burst out of an elevator and into the Cannon House Office Building’s bustling third floor three minutes before 10 a.m. He shuffles into the anteroom with a handful of Members moments later.

And just like that, this former U.S. attorney, a soft-spoken, one-time National Hockey League referee, a man who has emerged as a leader in the largest and perhaps most influential freshman class in a generation, is ready to begin.

A New Kind of Member

In a wave election that may be remembered most for the success of fiery tea party candidates across the nation, Meehan is an anomaly.

The 55-year-old speaks in the serious, but hushed tones of someone who has spent much of his adult life in a courtroom. He overuses sports metaphors, speaks kindly of Democrats and says he will not join the Tea Party Caucus.

Meehan scored a convincing victory in the race to fill the seat vacated by unsuccessful Senate candidate Joe Sestak (D) in Pennsylvania’s 7th district. The suburban Philadelphia region leans Democratic, as evidenced by strong victories there by President Barack Obama in 2008 and failed presidential hopeful Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) in 2004.

Meehan defeated state Rep. Bryan Lentz (D) by 11 points, becoming part of the 87-strong GOP freshman class of the 112th Congress.

If there is one thing members of this massive freshman class have in common, it is a lack of governing experience, so the longtime prosecutor is not unique. Most have business backgrounds, but there are six doctors, three car dealers, three former U.S. attorneys, two funeral directors, an auctioneer, a former FBI agent, a former Philadelphia Eagles lineman and a lumberjack champion, among others.

Meehan has quickly brushed off the inexperience with flashes of political skill throughout his first weeks on Capitol Hill.

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