WASHINGTON — Chip Cravaack was riding in a bus to the Capitol to freshman orientation on Sunday when he looked out the windows upon his police escort when the monument of the moment took over.
“I guess it kind of hit me, the seriousness of what we’re doing — all these new Congressmen here today and the impact they’re going to have on this country.”
His second “a ha” moment came a day later, standing in the Capitol rotunda beneath the famous Apotheosis of Washington fresco and looking across the room at statues of iconic Americans from George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King Jr. “I’m here,” he thought.
And perhaps a third came Monday afternoon, in a basement hallway of the Capitol Visitor Center as the former Northwest pilot steered through his first media swarm. It started with just MinnPost and the Minneapolis Star Tribune, but quickly everyone from the New York Times to Public Radio International crowded around to hear from the man who knocked off Jim Oberstar.
Freshman orientation in Congress is much the same as it is in universities across the nation — learning the ropes and basic logistics. They’ve got temporary IDs, the class photos are Tuesday morning and the first of their staffers are being hired now.
If there was a central theme for this massive class, made more massive by a GOP wave that swept out incumbents accused of abandoning their districts, it was to tell the freshmen to hew close to the voters who sent them here — and could just as easily toss them out.
“Basically it was telling us just to stay together as a class, make sure that the principles of the people that took us here from the 8th District, that we stay with that and keep that as our focus — representing our constituents,” Cravaack said. “Obviously our constituents had a lot to say to take us here all the way to Washington, D.C., all the way from Minnesota’s 8th District, and they’re the people that I need to represent.”
Cravaack said the first thing he wants to do in the 112th Congress is to repeal the health care overhaul — though he’s cognizant that Republicans likely don’t have the votes to overcome a certain veto from President Obama (let alone pass the Democratic-held Senate).
“I can’t see us trying to ferret the good out of it, it might take too long, but it’s more important to me to make sure that we repeal the health care bill and then replace it with something that’s more viable and will not put the country in financial straits.”
Tea Party Caucus
Cravaack said he hasn’t decided on whether or not to join the House Tea Party Caucus, founded by delegation-mate Michele Bachmann.
“I haven’t decided that yet,” he replied. What does the decision depend on? “I have to decide that too,” he joked. But in all seriousness: “I don’t know enough about it yet, it’s something I have to research. I didn’t really start off as a Tea Party person, but their values line up with mine in a lot of ways.”
Cravaack is just beginning the process of hiring staff for his congressional office. Currently, the former representative and senator Rod Grams is acting as the transition’s chief of staff, while the core campaign staff has largely continued its roles.
Grams is not expected to stay on as a permanent chief of staff, though Cravaack said he’s not planning to hurry up to find a replacement. Cravaack was asked specific advice he’s been given so far on hiring the chief of staff. “Don’t rush,” he deadpanned.
Staying or moving?
Cravaack said he will not be moving his family to Washington, but will likely find an apartment to call home while he’s here. The plan — in its very formative stages — is to find a cheap place possibly with other members. (Erik Paulsen has a similar arrangement.)
Off the table, he said, is putting a mattress on the floor of his office or sleeping on the couch, a move popularized when Newt Gingrich took the speaker’s gavel in the Republican Revolution of 1994 (a move about 50 or so members, including Democrat Tim Walz, currently do).
Office space in D.C. will be doled out later this week, after freshmen draw lots for seniority (first ones get first choice). But the amount of office space back in the district is totally at the discretion of the member.
Cravaack hasn’t decided on how many offices he’ll have, or where they might be, but he’s mulling over the idea of having a mobile office — either by having an official van that travels the district or by having a dedicated roving staffer who holds office hours in libraries and coffee shops across the district.
Outgoing Rep. Jim Oberstar has four district offices, in Brainerd, Chisolm, Duluth and North Branch.
Speaking of Oberstar…
Cravaack said he has reached out to outgoing Rep. Oberstar, as has his staff, to no reply. Cravaack, when asked if Oberstar had called to concede, replied: “No he has not.”