Back in the air I found myself headed to Washington, D.C. for Part II of freshmen orientation. But this time, I wasn't as anxious. Two weeks ago, I arrived in Washington unsure of what to expect.
The first few days of the first orientation felt like the beginning of Hunger Games. The cannon goes boom and everyone sprints off in survival mode. A little bit of chaos. Not surprisingly, for this second week, my colleagues were also at ease. We carried ourselves like seniors on campus, as if we'd been there for years. It was also nice to pick up where I had left off with many of the friends I had made, inside and outside of California.
Finding the Aisle, Then Crossing It
When I returned home after the first week of orientation I was often asked "How were the Republicans?" A good question. I pledged throughout the campaign to work with them and reach across the aisle.
To be honest, during the first week I was treading water and trying to process the high volume of information that was coming my way. Heck, I didn't even know where the aisle was. But I wasn't satisfied that I couldn't name many Republicans I was able to connect with.
This time, I went out of my way, at every event and lecture, to talk with Republicans. I ate with them at breakfast. I sat next to them at lectures. I commiserated with them at the office lottery (more on that below). And here's what I found:
They are just as committed as I and my Democratic colleagues to public service. One person who I especially enjoyed chatting with was Rep-Elect Paul Cook, from California's Eighth Congressional District (Southern California -- Paul's hometown is Yucca Valley). Paul is a Marine Corps veteran and Vietnam War hero. But I liked him because of his independence and commitment to education -- he is, after all, a college professor. He's also one of the few Republicans I know who was endorsed by one of California's largest labor unions, the California Correctional Peace Officers Association. He's a unique brand. Paul ran for Congress, like I did, as an outsider. In his race, he defeated fellow Republican and Tea Party candidate Gregg Imus. I hope to get to know Paul better and find ways to work together to support our state and move our country forward.
All Ayes on the Floor
One of my favorite parts of orientation was when we were taken to the House Floor to learn how to vote. Here's how it works.
Each Member of Congress is given a secure voting card. On the corner seat of each row is an electronic voting box. When a vote is called, you take your voting card, place it in the box, and vote yes (green button), no (red button) or present (yellow button).
Above and behind the rostrum (where the Speaker presides -- think big American flag as backdrop) is an electronic voting board. Once you vote, your vote appears Y, N, or P on the screen. I was excited to participate in the voting demonstration.
The Floor session ended with a briefing by the Sergeant of Arms, Paul Irving. He is in charge of security for the House of Representatives, but is better known for his role during the State of the Union when he announces, "MR. SPEAKER, THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES." That is always a stirring moment to watch on television -- I can't wait to hear his passion in person.
The crescendo of Part II of orientation is the office lottery. On the Hill, this ceremony is the talk of the town. It's a time-honored tradition (much like dorm room selection in college), where every Freshmen draws a number from 1-70 (13 of the Members in my class are returning to Congress -- we call them Red Shirts -- and have priority). If you get No. 1, you get the first office available. If you get #70, you get what is left.
It begins with the Superintendent of House Buildings, William Weidemeyer explaining the rules. The room was tense. I broke the tension by asking, "What happens if you dance in the end zone?"
I might as well have cursed any chance of getting a good number. The draw was alphabetical by last name. I would be at the end. The first few folks slowly and cautiously approached the wooden box that held the numbered buttons, as if a rattlesnake would strike them if they moved too fast. Very high numbers (50s, 60s) were being drawn.
Finally, Mr. Weidemeyer deadpanned, "We have done extensive studies of this lottery and have found that the more ritualistic the approach is to the box, for example, a dance, the better the chances the Member has of getting a good number."
Next up: Rep-Elect Julia Brownley from Southern California. She nervously approached the box. Heeding the advice of Mr. Weidemeyer, Julia did a little dance right before putting her hand in the box. She drew #1. Unreal.
Pretty soon the tension was gone, and the acts were on display: moonwalking, cartwheels, raising the roof, we saw it all. Before I approached the box, I asked Mr. Weidemeyer if anyone had ever selected their button to music. He said not in the many years he has overseen the process. I pulled out my iPhone and played Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'" for good luck.
I drew No. 61.
Worse, when I pulled it out, I thought it was number 19. Only once Mr. Weidemeyer quickly pulled it from my hand and announced, "Mr. Swalwell draws #61" did I realize what happened. I stopped believing! See this picture captured by Politico, which perfectly captured my reaction here and you can read the full story here.
After you draw, you have two hours to tour the available offices, then return and make your selection. Of course, I was at the end, and would have few to choose from. I kept my spirits high. I'd be happy to serve out of a broom closet. I just wanted something that would accommodate my staff and serve my constituents.
When it came our turn, I chose Office Number 501 in the Cannon House Office Building, former home to Rep. Jared Polis of Colorado, who chose to exercise his right to move offices. I chose that office because (I know, one of the only ones left) it was near the elevator (which will accommodate constituents) and I figured that if Rep. Polis chose to stay in it all these years -- rather then exercise his right to move every session -- it couldn't be all that bad.
Jared sent me a nice note wishing me well in the office. I think it will serve the people of California just fine. Besides, I don't plan to be there very often. If I'm not voting or meeting with constituents visiting Washington, D.C., I plan to be in California. In this case, the House is not a home.
Check out my final installment of New Member Orientation, Part III when I travel to Harvard University later this month.