Most Newcomers Won’t Uproot Families for D.C.

Posted December 3, 2004 at 6:08pm

Newly elected Members of Congress have a number of difficult choices to make when they arrive in Washington. What committees will they fight to serve on? What office space should they go after?

They also face a critical question of a more personal nature: Should they uproot their families and move them to D.C., or try to keep the lives of their spouses and children from being disrupted by maintaining an aggressive — and exhausting — commuting schedule?

For some, the choice is simple; those with grown children and those with no children don’t have to worry about the trauma that goes along with changing schools and moving away from family and friends.

Those with younger children, however, are forced to make a decision. For the most part, the incoming class appears to be opting for the commute.

Rep.-elect John Barrow (D-Ga.), for example, still has kids in school and his wife “has a business she has spent years building” and feels reluctant about leaving, said spokesman Roman Levit.

“He’ll be spending as much time down here as up there, so it doesn’t make sense to move,” Levit added, referring to Barrow’s need to come back to the district to serve his constituents.

Proximity of extended family members is another consideration that some Members are taking into account.

Rep.-elect Bobby Jindal (R-La.) never even considered moving his family out of Louisiana. According to Jindal campaign manager Timmy Teepell, “the in-laws won’t hear of moving the grandkids away” from their home by the bayou.

Rep.-elect Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) is also wary of moving his children away from their grandparents. Fitzpatrick spokesman Mike Cavanaugh noted that the Member-elect’s “Dad lives two streets away. … It would be extremely disruptive” for the family to move.

The disruption in the lives of their children is usually the primary concern when deciding whether to make the move to Washington. Brett Smiley, an aide to Rep.-elect Melissa Bean (D-Ill.), cited the fact that she “has young children and wants to leave them in school” as one of the main reasons she is keeping her main residence in the district.

Like many other Members, Bean also has political reasons to keep her family in her district, since her campaign revolved largely around the fact that 17-term incumbent Phil Crane (R) did not visit the district often enough. “She’s going to be doing the Tuesday/Thursday commute” to keep in touch with the district, Smiley said.

Mary Anne Inglis, wife of Rep.-elect Bob Inglis (R-S.C.), is on her second tour of duty as a Congressional spouse and echoed Bean’s concern about children switching schools.

“We have five children, four in school,” she noted. “We love it here, and it’s real easy to be a commuter.”

Even Members who are considering making a move plan on waiting until the current school year is over before making any sort of decision.

T.J. Connolly, spokesman for Rep.-elect Henry Cuellar (D-Texas), said that Cuellar “won’t [move] through the end of the school term in May.” Then, he said, Cuellar “will look at moving the girls up to D.C.”

“The girls really like the schools they have there in Laredo,” Connolly said. “The girls will finish the school term.”

Of course, the question that then arises is what the Representative will do for an apartment when Congress is in session. A sudden return to bachelorhood for long stretches of time presents both challenges and opportunities. The brothers Salazar — Sen.-elect Ken (D-Colo.) and Rep.-elect John (D-Colo.) — are rumored to be preparing to live together when they are in town.

Rep.-elect Charlie Dent (R-Pa.) plans to live in a fashion more often associated with staffers than Members.

“I’m looking for a Capitol Hill basement efficiency,” Dent said. “It won’t be pretty, I’ll tell you that much.”