Rep. Dan Lungren has a framed photograph on the windowsill of the office he keeps as chairman of the House Administration Committee, located in Room 1313 of the Longworth Building. It shows him as a much younger man, seated at a desk in front of a window, flanked on either side by beaming parents.
The photo was taken in 1979, and it shows a 32-year-old Lungren in his very first congressional office: 1313 Longworth.
“It was a freshman office then,” the California Republican explained. “And now it’s the chairman’s office for this committee. It was taken right here.”
Lungren has come full circle as he prepares to end his congressional career in the same place it began. In a painfully close election that was among the last to be called this cycle, he barely lost to his Democratic challenger, Ami Bera.
He couldn’t have anticipated that his political journey would culminate in holding this office again. He also couldn’t have imagined he would in 2010 ascend to the chairmanship of the House Administration Committee and become the “mayor of Capitol Hill.”
“I didn’t get on the committee to become chairman,” Lungren said last week.
He did, though, ask to be a member of the panel that oversees the operations of Congress when, following a 16-year absence, he returned to Capitol Hill eight years ago.
Lungren first came to Washington in 1979 and left in 1989 for political opportunities in California. He served as state attorney general from 1991 to 1999. He lost a bid for the governor’s mansion in 1998 to Democrat Gray Davis. In 2004, in the aftermath of 9/11, he decided to run for Congress again, believing he had expertise to help protect the country, the Congress and its people. The House Administration Committee, with oversight over campus security, was a place to do that.
His committee assignment request was granted, though it wasn’t a tough fight. It isn’t among Congress’ most popular panels. It has a low profile and low-stakes docket compared with other committees, and while its work on behalf of the institution is important, it tends not to have much resonance back home.
These days, as congressional approval ratings sink and anti-Washington rhetoric persists, there’s even less incentive for members to advertise their work on the House Administration Committee.
“To the extent that you would say anything about it, it was not a help; it was a hindrance,” Lungren said. “People have this perverse notion that you shouldn’t be proud of the Capitol and proud of the service here, that you should apologize for spending the day here!”
Lungren gestured out the window at the Cannon House Office Building and shook his head.