Freshmen Sent to Their Rooms

Posted November 21, 2008 at 3:33pm

Cheers, applause and laughter could be heard in a Rayburn committee room Friday morning as about 50 new Members competed for their first House office.

One by one, they all made their way to the front of the room, where each picked a number out of a box.

Rep.-elect Gary Peters (D-Mich.), a former state lottery commissioner, drew No. 1 and received resounding applause — he would get his first pick (Longworth 1130).

Kentucky Rep.-elect Brett Guthrie (R) got a roomful of laughter for his terrible luck at picking No. 54, dead last. He wouldn’t even be able to choose his office. Instead, Guthrie would get the last one available after every other Member in the 111th Congress had picked their new digs.

“But, see, he’s got a benefit,” joked House Superintendent Frank Tiscione, who oversaw the 2008 Member-elect room lottery. “He doesn’t have anything to do for the next four or five hours.”

Indeed, Guthrie was perhaps one of few new Members who didn’t have to spend the hours after the lottery roaming around the Cannon and Longworth buildings on Friday, peeking into Members’ offices to find the right window, the largest space and the best location.

Of course, their selections were limited to those that senior Members declined to take earlier in the week. Rayburn was off the table, as were the bigger offices in Longworth and Cannon.

Still, there were differences: an office in Longworth with more sunlight, for example, seemed far from the darkness of those on the fifth floor of Cannon.

Rep.-elect Michael McMahon (D), who will replace outgoing New York Rep. Vito Fossella (R), said he would “take an office in the Metro” if asked. But he scoped out Cannon anyway, drawn to its historical feel.

He ended up with Cannon Room 323, his fifth choice on a list entirely of Cannon offices.

“I’m tickled pink just to be here,” he said. “And I have an office in the Cannon Office Building, which tickles me pink all over.”

But for Rep.-elect Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah), the perfect office was one with exterior windows and a central location. He was also scoping out the future site of his bedroom. In recent days, Chaffetz has gained some notoriety for admitting that he plans to sleep in his office.

In Rep. Rob Bishop’s office (R-Utah), he unpacked his $44 Coleman twin cot to see how it fit in the space.

“I like my feet to hang off the end,” he said as he tested the mattress’ firmness. “So this will work.”

But Chaffetz’s main worry was how far he’d have to walk to the floor or committee hearings. Three years ago, he fell from a ladder, breaking his heel into six pieces. With 14 screws and a metal plate in his foot, long walks can be painful.

Chaffetz was lucky enough to pick No. 6 in the lottery, meaning he would be the sixth Member-elect to choose an office. He focused his search on Longworth — a building nearer to Rayburn, which houses the gym where he plans to shower, and the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, on which he hopes to serve.

In Room 1223, Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.) greeted Chaffetz, who wasn’t the first to scope out the central and roomy office.

“One plus is you have windows you can look out of and see life,” Reichert joked. “The windows do open. There’s only been two times that I felt like jumping.”

Not all offices had the merry feeling of Reichert’s. When, in the middle of a tour, a visitor asked Rep. Thelma Drake’s (R-Va.) staffers where they were moving, one glumly replied: “We’re looking for new jobs.” Drake lost her seat to Democrat Glenn Nye on Nov. 4.

But for some new Members, no tour was necessary. Mark Schauer, a Democrat who beat Rep. Tim Walberg (R) for Michigan’s 7th district seat, quickly wandered in and out of offices without much fanfare.

As he got hungry a couple of hours into his search, a free bag of peanuts immediately gave the office of a Virginia Member a step up. To him, they all seemed like “good choices.”

He ended up with Longworth Room 1408.

“Candidly,” he said, “I can’t remember any of the specifics.”

Guthrie ended up in Room 514 on Cannon’s dreaded fifth floor, which has a reputation of being difficult to find and out-of-the-way.