Saturday, Nov. 20, 2010 | 7:50 p.m.
Congressman-elect Joe Heck is headed home after an opening week in Washington marked by meetings, match-ups and more elections.
Ninety-three freshman soon-to-be-members of Congress — nine Democrats, the rest Republicans — had their official orientation in the Capitol this week.
Were it not for that setting, the ubiquitous U.S. flag pins, and the percentage of new faces topped by graying hair, one could say the schedule was just like one might experience the first week of college.
Members-to-be were shuttled through a grueling schedule of lecture sessions about how to cope with Congress — everything from lawmaking ethics to House rule-making procedures — and sorted through a room lottery into their new offices.
They were also invited to take their first votes: On codes of lawmaking conduct (for the GOP, no earmarks, unanimously) and for class reps, of which Heck is now one.
That’s right, the House of Representatives may be the body that most represents the American people, but it has its student councils of sorts — and for the GOP, that’s the Steering Committee.
The House Republican Steering Committee is a body of 38 reps this year whose job it is to staff all the other committees on the Hill. That means those on the committee have a whole lot of unofficial policy-making authority as well.
For the next two years, Heck will be in their ranks.
“We did mount a kind of grass-roots campaign talking to some of the other freshmen...I talked to folks that I thought that I already had a connection with: Folks from my Young Guns class, former military members, folks from the Southwest,” Heck said, explaining how he sought out the position. “It was our class who voted about who they wanted to represent them on the committee.”
It apparently worked. Heck was elected on the first ballot and is now one of only three freshmen to have gained a seat at the table.
The position comes with its responsibilities to the caucus but, also, opportunities for the congressman — and by extension, potentially his constituency.
Starting the week after Thanksgiving, Heck will be part of the decision-making process for several committee appointments that could dictate the progress of legislation considered vital to Nevada on the Hill, from energy issues to transportation to the legalization of online gaming.
With the changeover in leadership, every House chairmanship is technically up for grabs, even where there seem to be obvious successors to the top post, and Heck will be Nevada’s one voice at the table.
“This is a great opportunity for Joe and great opportunity for Nevada,” said Dean Heller, Nevada’s senior GOP congressman.
How he’ll use that clout remains to be seen. But his good fortune in the steering committee race appeared to trickle over into Friday’s office lottery, an all-day affair where new members selected their digs for the coming session.
Heck drew a respectable No. 19, enough to net him his second-choice office.
“I wanted to be in 126, right across from Dean Heller,” Heck said. “But I’ll be right down the hall.”
He had his wife, Lisa, help him scope out offices earlier in the week. He moves into Cannon 132 — the first-floor, crimson-accented office now occupied by Bill Posey of Florida. Posey was one of the few new Republicans who came to office in 2008 and is now moving on to cushier digs.
Heck won’t just be setting up shop in the Cannon building, though. According to a spokesperson for the campaign, he plans to sleep in his office, too.
“He plans to fly back every weekend,” said Heck spokeswoman Mari Nakashima, making it easier for Heck not to take up a residence in Washington, D.C.
If he sticks with the plan, he’ll be unique among Nevada representatives but not the first congressman to crash on his couch (so to speak; it’s probably more likely to be a cot).
Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican who will chair the subcommittee that oversees the federal workforce, the post office and the goings-on of the District of Columbia next session, does the same. He says it saves money and time spent commuting from an apartment.