By Peter Carlson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
Shelley Sekula-Gibbs was sworn in as a congresswoman on Monday night and already she's a lame duck. Because of a weird electoral quirk, her brief term in office expires next month.
But you couldn't tell that by listening to her.
"I'm working hard to accomplish the things I'm working for," she said yesterday. "For tax cuts. For immigration reform. To make sure we have a good solution for the war in Iraq."
All that? In a few weeks?
"If there's a way to do it, I'll do it," she said, smiling beneath her bright blond hair. "I'll deal with the leadership to get as much done as possible."
Sekula-Gibbs (R-Tex.) won a race for Congress on Nov. 7. She also lost a race for Congress on Nov. 7. It's a long story:
Tom "The Hammer" DeLay, the former House majority leader who was indicted on money-laundering charges, resigned from Congress last spring after winning the Republican primary. Last week, voters in DeLay's old district, the 22nd, got to cast two votes for Congress. The Texas voters elected Sekula-Gibbs to fill the remaining portion of DeLay's term -- but they elected Democrat Nick Lampson to succeed DeLay in the Congress that takes office in January, a race that Sekula-Gibbs had to run as a write-in candidate.
That makes for a very short congressional career for Sekula-Gibbs, 53, who is a member of the Houston City Council and a dermatologist -- probably two or three weeks, if you don't count recesses. But she'll retain all the perks that any other ex-member gets, such as use of the House gym and access to the House floor.
On Monday evening, just before she took the oath of office, Sekula-Gibbs held her first congressional news conference in her new office, which is DeLay's old office. Wearing a blue pantsuit with a fuchsia blouse and a string of pearls, she quickly proved that she has mastered the art of the well-worn political bromide.
She said: "I'm proud that the people of the 22nd Congressional District honored me with their votes."
She said: "I'm blessed by God. This really is a gift from God."
She said: "I'm looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and getting as much done as I can accomplish."
What does she think of her accommodations?
She looked around. The dull beige walls were nearly bare. The only pictures were stored on the floor of a closet.
"These are splendid accommodations," she said, smiling. "All we need are the bare essentials to get things done."
She won't be doing any redecorating, she added. And she'll scrape by with a small staff -- a few DeLay holdovers, plus a couple of ex-campaign workers. Meanwhile, she'll spend her tenure living in a hotel. "I have no plans to have a permanent residence here," she said.
But this was no time for idle chitchat. Sekula-Gibbs had to hustle over to the Capitol.
There, after being sworn in, she addressed her distinguished colleagues: "I look forward to getting to know each of you and working on the initiatives that will help strengthen our country."
Getting to know all 434 of them? That's a lot to do in a few weeks.
In the next hour, Sekula-Gibbs cast three votes. The first was on a bill to "suspend the rules and agree to the Senate amendment" to something called the Trail of Tears Study Act. She stuck her brand-new voting card into a machine and voted yes. Then she looked up at the big screen behind the House speaker's desk and saw a little green light appear next to her name.
It was a courageous vote for Sekula-Gibbbs. If she ever runs for office again, that vote could inspire a vicious attack ad. It's not hard to imagine it: The worst photo ever taken of Sekula-Gibbs appears on the TV screen and an ominous voice says, " She voted to suspend the rules of Congress . . . "
When the voting ended, Sekula-Gibbs rose to make the first official motion of her congressional career: "Mr. Speaker," she said, "I move that the House now adjourn."
The motion carried, and she stepped out into the Speaker's Lobby, where reporters were poised to ask her how it felt.
"It was very exciting," she said.
How did she feel, asked a reporter from the Houston Chronicle, when Democrats came over to greet her?
"I welcome that," she said. "I welcome bipartisan support."
Amazing! In one short night in Congress, Sekula-Gibbs had already done most of the things that our elected representatives do. She'd held a news conference, she'd voted, she'd endorsed bipartisanship, and she'd pledged to "work with my colleagues." To experience the full gamut of congressional life, about all she needed now was a committee meeting and a breakfast meeting.
Alas, she hadn't been assigned to any committees yet. But yesterday she did hold a breakfast meeting in her office for constituents. Her staff provided Danish pastries and a Dunkin' Donuts Box o' Joe.
Houston attorney Robert Gibbs was there. He is Sekula-Gibbs's third husband. "The first husband died," he said. "And the second husband died. And I'm still here."
Jon and Lillian Keeney were there, too. They are constituents and friends of Sekula-Gibbs. They are also the proud possessors of Tom DeLay's first dinette set. They got it from DeLay's daughter, they said, when they helped her clean out DeLay's Texas office.
"It'll be on our ranch in Dime Box, Texas," said Jon.
Is it the kind of thing, a reporter asked, that might someday appear in a Tom DeLay museum?
"Absolutely!" Jon said.
Texas's senators, John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison, both Republicans, dropped by to welcome Sekula-Gibbs to Congress. So did Rep. Ted Poe (R-Tex.) , a former judge who once sentenced a burglar to stand on a sidewalk wearing a sign that read, "I stole from this store." Poe is a big fan of Sekula-Gibbs.
"I think she can get down in the pits, so to speak, and start working immediately," he said. "She has the energy to do it."
"And this is an energy state," Sekula-Gibbs added, smiling.
By then, she'd been in office for 15 hours. A reporter asked, "Have you been corrupted by power yet?"
"No, I haven't," she said. And she burst out laughing.
But only for a moment. A second later, she was serious again. "It's been a rewarding experience," she said, "and I'm looking forward to making a difference and providing a solid voice for conservative values."