Incoming representatives choose their new digs during House office lottery

For newcomers to Congress, this biennial event is of great consequence. Their Hill office will be their home away from home for the next two years.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
As newly elected House lawmakers take their chances at a lottery for the best office space on Capitol Hill, Rep.-elect Bruce Poliquin, R-Maine, right, exults after aide Megan Hutson picked a choice number that should ensure a preferred suite for the freshman lawmaker, Wednesday on Capitol Hill in Washington. In Congress, where seniority means everything, freshman can expect to get the least-desired spaces, while senior members fight for the largest offices with the best views of the Capitol.

Wednesday was office lottery day for 57 incoming freshmen in the US House of Representatives. The congressmen-elect have been known to bust out the dance moves, even do a cartwheel, before drawing their number. 

But today’s No. 1 winner, Steve Knight, a Republican from California, did nothing special to come out on top. He did not, for instance, do a back flip. (That gymnastic feat was performed by a colleague's aide.) He also did not rub the bald head of a fellow freshman. Nor did he dance a little jig or rub his hands together, as others did.

He simply reached into a cherry-colored wood box and pulled out a “button” that gave him first pick.

“I was concentrating,” he joked. “My name is Knight. It was a Jedi mind trick.”

For newcomers to Congress, this biennial event is of great consequence. Their Hill office will be their home away from home for the next two years, and perhaps longer. Although all House office suites come with three rooms, they are definitely not all equal. In some cases, not all of the rooms are contiguous. Some suites are located in the more distant Cannon office building, which is also slated for construction projects.  And some suites are more cramped than others.

Mr. Knight, a state senator, had already scoped things out before this morning’s lottery. He knew he wanted to be in the Longworth building because of its central location, cafeteria, and banking.

“It has different things that are good for the staff,” he said – since, after all, his staff will be here all the time, while he travels back and forth to his district, the 25th , which covers parts of northern Los Angeles County and Ventura County.

Accompanied by his wife, Lily, and chief of staff, David Orosco, he set off to take one last look at a few offices before making up his mind. A House aide led them through an underground garage – all members have underground parking (particularly welcome for a Californian on a frigid day). And then it was up to a ground-floor office now occupied by Rep. Vicky Hartzler (D) of Missouri.

“This might be an omen,” Knight remarked, as he stepped inside and looked directly at a photo of a B-2 stealth bomber. Knight is an Army veteran, his father was an air force test pilot, and the B-2 is built in his district. Knight wants to join the House Armed Services Committee, which is chaired by the retiring Buck McKeon, also from California's 25th.

Knight, fit and trim in a navy suit, checked out the main office with its blue leather club chairs and sofa (he anticipates nights spent on his sofa), and he stepped into the kitchen space – larger than in other offices. As he left, he remarked that he liked being on the ground floor.

The office of delegate Pedro Pierluisi (D) from Puerto Rico also caught his eye. The paneled corner room has its own bathroom, and a view of the Capitol esplanade and Library of Congress. Knight especially liked that the reception and waiting area is shielded from staff.  

In the end, though, he chose Representative Hartzler’s ground-floor office.

It’s nice to have first choice. The same can’t be said for Republican Barbara Comstock, the incoming congresswoman from Virginia. She drew No. 57 – dead last.

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