New members play lottery for office space
Rep.-elect Julia Brownley of California shimmied and danced, smiling broadly. And that was before the Democrat even got the good news: She'd won the lottery.
No, Brownley didn't win the $588 million Powerball jackpot. She won the lottery held for the 70 newly-elected House freshmen to pick the best available office space on Capitol Hill.
After picking No. 1, Brownley yelped with delight, basked in an impromptu standing ovation from her freshman colleagues and duly waved a winner's wave. A few hours later, after scanning maps and a little touring of the available office space, she made her selection, a spacious - by the somewhat diminished standards of freshman offices - suite on first floor of the Longworth building. Her choice, she said, was all about practical concerns.
"No, not a very good view," she conceded, saying she chose Longworth 1019 because it offered a quick route to the House floor and had "lots of space for interns."
In truth there really aren't any real winners in the freshman House lottery. Veteran members get first pick of the most plum space. None of the newcomers, for example, could even consider a spot in the building where the lottery took place, the coveted Rayburn building, because it is already full of returning members.
But members had their priorities. Rep.-elect Ted Yoho, R-Fla., said he chose a generally non-coveted spot on the 5th floor of the Cannon office building because it had "a cage" for extra storage and because he might be able to sneak outside from its balcony to enjoy fresh air. He dismissed the usual reason incoming members try to avoid that area.
"I like that we're away from everyone else," he said.
The fact that the new members were competing for second-tier office space didn't dampen their enthusiasm. Nervous energy filled the corridor as members filed in for the lottery. Democratic Reps.-elect Patrick Murphy of Florida and Joaquin Castro of Texas exchanged pleasantries and pumped each other up.
"You ready for this?" Murphy asked.
"Yeah. Seriously," Castro replied.
Inside, Bill Weidemeyer, the House superintendent and de-facto emcee of the lottery, did all he could to goad the typically staid politicians - or staffers they designated for duty - into goofy antics in the name of good luck. "End zone celebrations" were strong encouraged, he said.
Not everyone who preened found payoff. Rep.-elect Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., limbered up, then did a hybrid moonwalk, robot dance and got a middling result, no 34. Newcomer Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., asked if he could give himself a soundtrack, cranked up Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" on his phone, then and found plenty of reason to doubt, pulling No. 61.
While the person who draws the last number - this year it was 70 - is typically the worst off, incoming Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., actually got a bit of a reprieve. Two Republican Louisiana incumbents, Reps. Charles Boustany and Jeff Landry, compete in a runoff on Dec. 8. While he'll have to wait to get situated, Daines will get the loser's office space.
And, for all the gamesmanship, most members had perspective. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona said she'd be happy with whatever she got after drawing No. 47.
"Four walls, three walls will work," she said. "I mean I grew up homeless. I just don't think it matters. You're in Congress!"