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California Democrat Julia Brownley did a small jig on her way up to the dais of the House Appropriations Committee hearing room.
It was Friday morning, the day of the freshman office lottery, and the incoming congresswoman was about to draw her number to determine in what order she would get to pick her room assignment for the 113th Congress.
The master of ceremonies, House Office Buildings Superintendent William Weidemeyer, had just reminded the assembled crowd that precedent proved one’s chances for picking a lower number correlated with doing a special good-luck performance before reaching into the stately wooden box filled with numbered chips. Of the six members-to-be drawing chips before Brownley, the highest number picked was 60 and the lowest was 17. Generally, picking a number over 50 severely limits a new member’s options, although some who pick lower numbers go with smaller real estate, such as in the Cannon Building, for better views of the Capitol.
When Brownley saw what chip she had pulled, she gasped and handed it to Weidemeyer, who announced the results to uproarious applause and a standing ovation.
Brownley had picked No. 1, ensuring her first pick of the 70 office suites up for grabs throughout the Cannon and Longworth House Office Buildings.
“See!” Weidemeyer cried.
Other members tried their luck. Rep.-elect Jackie Walorski, R-Ind., shouted “Go Irish!” in reference to the Indiana-based Notre Dame University. She picked No. 6.
Congressman-to-be Tom Rice, R-S.C., approached the dais with his wife, whom he called his “good luck charm,” and kissed her before selecting No. 28. An aide for Rep.-elect Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., did a cartwheel before selecting No. 10 for her boss.
The technique had mixed results, however: Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., came to pick his number with the Journey classic “Don’t Stop Believin’” blasting from his phone. He picked No. 61.
But even those who knew their fates were doomed to the offices on the top floors and in the dark hallways with poor lighting and low square footage had a sense of humor on Friday, the final day of freshman orientation that was spread out over two weeks on either side of the Thanksgiving recess. Members-elect gently ribbed one another, and those who had picked low numbers joked with their colleagues about the possibility of making a trade.
Weidemeyer, participating in his fourth lottery and running his second, was also having a good time, he said after all the numbers had been picked. There was a two-and-a-half-hour break between number selection and room selection to give members time to do some research.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “They [the members-elect] are tired after a long, arduous process, they’re ready for this to be over, and they’re excited about choosing their rooms.”
From 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., the new members and their aides shuffled through the halls of Cannon and Longworth, knocking on doors to peer into offices that were still occupied either by departing lawmakers or members moving into better accommodations.
Back in the Appropriations hearing room for room selection, most of the incoming lawmakers and their aides remained huddled together up until the moment their names were called, going over floor plans and notes.
Rep.-elect Patrick Murphy, D-Fla., who drew No. 59, said he had four or five office locations picked out that he figured would still be around by the time it was his turn to decide.
But there are always surprises. Rep.-elect Ted Yoho, R-Fla., picked No. 22, which earned him his desired out-of-the-way fifth floor Cannon office that had a balcony. “We’re going to barbecue out there,” he joked.
Brownley’s No. 1 pick was 1019 Longworth, which at 1,045 square feet was among the largest rooms available and would allow her to hire lots of interns, she said.
No. 69, Ron DeSantis, R-Fla., picked the last available room, 427 Cannon.
No. 70, Steve Daines, R-Mont., has to wait a while longer to figure out where he’ll be setting up shop: Depending on who loses the runoff election next week between Louisiana Republican Reps. Jeff Landry and Charles Boustany Jr., he’ll get 206 Cannon or 1431 Longworth.