Some New Members Are Making Moves Early

Posted November 6, 2010 at 3:57pm

Most newly elected Members have a leisurely two months from Election Day to staff and furnish their offices and get their bearings before being thrown into the circus that is Congress. But this year, two Representatives-elect have just two days.

Former Corning, N.Y., mayor Tom Reed and Indiana state Rep. Marlin Stutzman won special elections to replace Members who resigned in the middle of their terms. That means that as soon as the Clerk of the House receives verification of the two Republicans’ victories, they can assume all Member duties.

In addition, Sens.-elect Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) and Chris Coons (D-Del.) are expected to be seated on the first day of the lame-duck session while Sen.-elect Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) could follow a week or two behind.

The two new House Members had not been certified as of press time, but they were expecting the nod on the heels of double-digit victories.

That leaves the new Members with no time to celebrate their successes; they immediately have to put together staffs at the Capitol and in their Congressional districts, move into their new offices and find housing in Washington, D.C.

“I tend to think things through and make sure we’re thinking long-term,” said Stutzman, who is taking over from former Rep. Mark Souder (R) in Indiana’s 3rd district. “I don’t have that luxury.”

Souder resigned in May after admitting to an extramarital affair with a part-time staffer. Reed, meanwhile, is taking over in New York’s 29th district for ex-Rep. Eric Massa, who quit in March after male staffers accused the Democrat of sexual harassment.

Though the Clerk of the House kept district and D.C. staff on the payroll to deal with constituent concerns, the offices have essentially been headless for months, leaving a backlog of casework.

“There’s a little bit of whiplash,” said Joe Sempolinski, campaign manager for Reed. Anytime someone is elected, “it’s going to be a whirlwind, but especially now it’s going to be a whirlwind because of the short transition,” he said.

As if that’s not enough, the Representatives-elect will most likely be sworn in on the first day of the lame-duck session, becoming full voting Members.

New Member orientation is set to start Nov. 14, and during the lame duck, the House is expected to vote on an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts and either an omnibus spending bill or a yearlong continuing resolution to keep the government running.

“It sounds like they’re going to swear us in on Nov. 16,” Stutzman said. “We’ll be doing orientation plus any votes that need to be cast that week, so it’s going to be a busy week for us.”

But there was hardly time to think about all that on the campaign trail.

“We knew it would be busy, but I didn’t want to jump too far ahead of myself,” he said. “Now we’re focusing on making those arrangements to be there for lame duck and getting the staff set.”

Stutzman hasn’t decided on a chief of staff, but he has been interviewing candidates nonstop since Nov. 3 and has also taking applications for other positions. Some of his six permanent campaign staffers will come with him, he added, and he may hire some of Souder’s staff, too.

Reed’s chief of staff wasn’t set Friday either, but Sempolinski will become district director and campaign spokesman Tim Kolpien will stay on as press secretary, Kolpien said. But Massa’s D.C. staffers will not be hired, Kolpien added.

Reed has “interviewed a lot of people over the last couple of days,” he said. “There is a little bit of continuity and we also are going to retain a few people who were on Congressman Massa’s” district staff.

There is an upside to the early arrival: Reed and Stutzman will have two months of seniority on their first-term colleagues, giving them an advantage over the more than 100 new Representatives in the coveted suite-selection lottery.

In addition, both Members-elect will be moving into the D.C. and district offices vacated by their predecessors, who left furniture and computers and already-signed leases in New York and Indiana. Plus, the Congressmen-to-be will take over robust allowances.

“Since there hasn’t been a Member, certain things … have not been spent,” Sempolinski said. “It’s not like it’s been eight months without money coming out of it, but there hasn’t been the same level of activity as there would be if there was a Member.”

Stutzman said Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) and a Fredericksburg, Va.-based sister-in-law are helping him find housing. Reed will be leaning on former staffers of ex-Reps. Randy Kuhl and Amo Houghton, both Republicans who represented New York from the 29th district.