Georgia’s congressional freshmen arrived for orientation last week declaring themselves honored to serve, prepared to build a more productive Congress and floored at one key aspect of Capitol Hill life.
“Sticker shock,” said Representative-elect Barry Loudermilk of Cassville.
Sky-high Washington housing costs are one thing the new members must grapple with, though all five Georgia newcomers — four in the House, one in the Senate, all Republicans — said they at least plan to rent a place. Many members sleep in their offices.
Representative-elect Buddy Carter of Pooler said several people have pointed out to him that the man he’s replacing, longtime Rep. Jack Kingston, slept in his office for years.
“Well, Jack was in his 30s when he came up here,” the 57-year-old Carter said. “I am not in my 30s.”
Aside from finding a place to lay their heads, the new members took stock of their office budgets, hired staff and awaited the results of the biennial office lottery where senior members pick the prime Capitol Hill suites and the rest wait for leftovers.
Georgia’s freshmen come from varied backgrounds. Carter, a pharmacist, spent a decade under the Gold Dome in the state House and Senate. Almost the entire time, Loudermilk, a 50-year-old small-business owner and Air Force veteran, sat directly behind Carter.
Representative-elect Jody Hice, 54, of Monroe has never held elected office, but the former minister and talk show host has been involved in political causes for years. Starting in 2003 he battled the American Civil Liberties Union over a Ten Commandments display at the Barrow County Courthouse, and he ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 2010.
Representative-elect Rick Allen, 63, of Evans spent his adult life building a successful construction company in Augusta. He ran for Congress and lost in 2012 before coming back this year.
Senator-elect David Perdue, 64, had a career spanning the globe that includes CEO stints at Fortune 500 companies before making his first run for office this year.
For now they’re all newbies, getting lost in the Capitol and searching for a place to work.
Carter met a reporter at a coffee shop to discuss his transition because his hotel room was functioning as a preliminary office. Carter was ahead of many colleagues, though, having already secured his chief of staff — Chris Crawford, a longtime Kingston aide.
Allen said he had three strong candidates to interview for chief of staff. Coming off a victory over Democratic U.S. Rep. John Barrow of Augusta that surprised many in Washington, Allen is the only Georgia newcomer taking over for a member of the opposite party. That means if there are any staff holdovers from the previous regime, they likely would be handling case work in the district — given Washington staffers’ party segregation.
Allen is reaching high when it comes to a committee assignment: He said he wants to take Barrow’s seat on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. But freshmen typically don’t get on an “A” committee, so Allen said he would be pleased with a spot on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
There are no Georgians on the Transportation Committee, so the delegation is pushing to get someone on the panel to help guide policy that matters from traffic-snarled Atlanta to the port city of Savannah and everywhere in between. Carter said he would be interested in Transportation, too, as well as the money-distributing Appropriations Committee — where he served in the Legislature and where Kingston has a powerful post.
The lame-duck congressmen and senators were voting on the floor last week, but the newcomers did have closed-door ballots to pick their leaders for next year. House Speaker John Boehner was re-elected by voice vote, with no one formally challenging him, though Hice did voice his dissent.
“We’re going to stand together for conservative principles,” Hice said when asked how the House could get different results with the same leadership. “That’s what we’re going to be standing for and fighting for.”
Hice arrived in Washington with a reputation for headline-grabbing statements on gays, women and other topics from his career as a conservative radio host. But he promised a low-key debut.
“We’re just going to be focused on right now learning as much as we can this week, and we’ll get our tennis shoes on, so to speak, and we’ll get running here pretty shortly,” Hice said.
Perdue had an aw-shucks way about him after his first steps onto the floor of the Senate. He said soon-to-be Majority Leader Mitch McConnell talked about a five-day workweek as a show of the new Senate’s willingness to work. Such a schedule is nearly unheard of in recent years, as the rush to the airport begins early Thursday afternoon.
“I’m a new guy; I have to be optimistic,” Perdue said. “I’m not jaded. And I really have high expectations. The people of America expect us to get back to work, and I think that this is the challenge of the next year.”
Though the freshmen had been to Washington several times before, they were for the first time enjoying the perks of high office. They went to confabs at the conservative Heritage Foundation think tank and dinner at the GOP’s Capitol Hill Club.
Allen showed off his badge identifying him as a “member-elect.”
“You show this and you get to walk through the security,” he said. “You don’t have to take all your stuff out of your pockets and all that stuff. It’s pretty neat.”