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New members take to the Hill for orientation

A former NFL quarterback, a seven-fingered farmer and a '70's rocker who posed half-naked on an old album cover began learning Monday how to be members of Congress.
/ Source: The Associated Press

A former NFL quarterback, a seven-fingered farmer and a '70's rocker who posed half-naked on an old album cover began learning Monday how to be members of Congress.

More than 50 incoming House freshmen spent the day in meetings focused not on big legislative items or the Iraq war but rather on office logistics - everything from budgets to security to ethics.

In the Senate, a 10-person freshman class of eight Democrats, one Republican and Democratic-leaning Independent Bernard Sanders of Vermont also began orientation.

Capitol Hilll security tested
Sen.-elect Jon Tester of Montana looked a little overwhelmed on his first day.

"It hasn't soaked in yet," he said. "Maybe it will never soak in."

The Capitol police weren't quite ready for Tester, a farmer with a throwback flat top haircut and fingers missing on his left hand. They asked him to empty his pockets for inspection.

"Just like at the airport, you put it all through?" Tester asked.

The officer nodded, but quickly waived Tester through once he found out who the newcomer was.

Kevin McCarthy of California, one of 13 newly minted Republican House members, said freshmen from both parties were eager to show the new Congress will dispel any aroma of scandal. McCarthy said the ethics training was important for those like him who came from state legislatures with different rules.

"They give us the steps to stay out of trouble," he said. "They really stress, before you do something, just ask if it's OK."

Previous public expereience
Being in the public eye is no novelty for many of the Capitol's new tenants, among them rock musician and songwriter John Hall and ex-Washington Redskins quarterback Heath Shuler.

Hall, a New York Democrat, ran an unorthodox campaign featuring a singing duet on Comedy Central and a number of concert rallies with famous friends such as Bonnie Raitt. In between meetings Monday, he said being thought of as a musician during the campaign was a help because his Republican opponents underestimated him.

"There have been exterminators elected to this House, so why not a musician," Hall said, adding that the new Democratic majority of which he's a part will "still have to prove that we can deliver on the promises made in the campaign."

Shuler, also a Democrat, was elected from a traditionally conservative district in western North Carolina, running a moderate campaign to bring "mountain values" to the halls of Congress. He's the latest former NFL player to win a seat in Congress, following Buffalo Bills quarterback Jack Kemp and Seattle Seahawks receiver Steve Largent, both Republicans.

Procedure over politics
For the few new Republicans, success at the polls was clouded by the disappointment in the GOP losing control of the House and Senate.

"I was really hoping to know what it was like to be in a majority here in Washington D.C.," said Rep.-elect Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.

Politics, however, took a back seat to procedure for most of the day, as wide-eyed rookie lawmakers seemed both excited and awed.

"From both parties, we all sort of have the same feeling: 'Wow! Is this really happening?'" said Michael Arcuri, D-N.Y.

Indiana Rep. Joe Donnelly, a Democrat who beat incumbent Chris Chocola, said he was mostly concerned about getting his office up and running "as quickly as possible, so we can start working for the people back home."

In the evening, President Bush was hosting newly elected lawmakers at a White House reception.

Two House freshmen - Democrat Albio Sires of New Jersey and Republican Shelley Sekula-Gibbs of Texas - were being sworn into office Monday evening to fill seats vacated before last week's election.

Sekula-Gibbs' tenure will be brief. She won a special election to fill the Texas seat of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who resigned earlier this year. She lost a write-in campaign in the general election to Democrat Nick Lampson, who will take over the seat in January.