A Freshman's Baptism In Capitol Hill's Ways
WASHINGTON — Within 24 hours after Anne Northup (R) was elected congresswoman, people started calling her for help in their travails with the federal government - everything from missing Social Security checks to passes to visit the White House. Now just two weeks after her election, she's on Capitol Hill trying to learn her new job, choose an office, and find a place to live.
The nine-year Kentucky legislator and mother of six has been on the go ever since, as the challenges of balancing family and career reach a new level.
Representative-elect Northup, like the other 72 incoming new members of the House of Representatives, spent this week in freshman orientation: going to meetings to learn about Congress's ethics rules, managing a congressional office, hiring a staff, committee assignments, and constituent services. She's listened to current freshmen discuss what they wish they had known when they came to Capitol Hill. She helped reelect the House Republican leadership. And she's tried to keep up with the messages, phone calls, demands for interviews, and requests for appointments.
In her spare time, she's been looking for an efficiency to rent. Her husband, Robert Wood (Woody) Northup, and her two children still living at home will stay in Kentucky. She plans to fly home on weekends and during recesses.
Respect for Congress
Her biggest surprise so far? "To a person, the people I've met are very impressive. Compared to a state legislature, it's much different. Many people in the state legislature are citizen legislators.... They're in no way trained to manage an office, to manage issues outside their own experience."
"I'm also touched by the amount of respect that still exists in this town for the institution of Congress," she says. Her colleagues "are truly dedicated to this country - whether [or not] we all agree on what this country needs. People really are motivated, because they felt like they could make a difference."
Northup has also learned what it means to be a freshman member - you get the least-desirable offices and it's tough to get on the choice committees. She requested the Appropriations, Ways and Means, and Commerce Committees - three of the House's most powerful - but didn't expect to get them. At press time, she was hoping for assignment to the Banking and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committees.
"Everything is falling into place," she says. "I've got the beginnings of a great staff." The number of job applications she's received has been overwhelming.
In the meantime, she's trying to keep her life together. "I've got to retake my home. I've managed to clean out my kitchen cabinets, but I've got to sit down with my two children and straighten out their closets. I've got the congressional office here and [in Kentucky] to take care of. Right after Thanksgiving, she has to attend a special session of the Kentucky legislature and close her state legislative office. Still, she says "I'm more champing at the bit than feeling overwhelmed."
Getting the balance right
Northup says she can bring the perspective of a working wife and mother to Capitol Hill. "There's a lot of support for balancing the budget, reducing taxes, reducing the size of government, getting rid of obsolete and costly programs," she says. "Republicans, in the pressure of getting things done, and in the exuberance of [victory], failed to establish why these objectives were good for families."
"I have been the mom that's had to balance family and work, had to get kids all the places they're supposed to be. The reality is, more women than men are balancing those responsibilities and feeling exhausted, feeling like they're doing everything that they're supposed to do and more. But what they're finding is they've gone to work and they still can't pay all the bills.
"And I think as we talk about issues, whether it's vouchers for education, balancing the budget, welfare reform, it ought to be in the context of just what strains those people, certainly women, are dealing with on a day-to-day basis. I've been in their position. I still am."
For all the juggling, Northup seems to enjoy the process. "I feel like I can't miss one class because every single person that's talked has been somebody that I've read about. I think the opportunity to have a sense of who they really are up close and personal is important. But also ... they're there because they have wisdom and you want to obtain all the wisdom you can."
Northup defeated freshman Democrat Rep. Mike Ward by 1,300 votes to become the first Republican in 24 years to represent her suburban Louisville district.
Next week, Northup takes six days off for a Florida cruise with her family. They were supposed to leave this week, but she learned just before the election that she'd have to come to Washington instead. When she told her husband, "he said, 'Well, I'm glad you told me before I voted.'"