House of Representatives' freshman class plays the (office) lottery

Incoming legislators participate in a lottery to determine who gets what office on Capitol Hill.
By David A. Fahrenthold
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, November 19, 2010; 8:43 PM

In a crowded hearing room, the minds that flipped a nation's politics were focused on questions about office decor, trying to remember which offices were eligible for new drapes.

"I feel like we're going to do really well," said Robert Hurt (R), a newly elected congressman from Virginia. He was shuffling through floor plans for House office buildings - he likes Cannon - and he just felt lucky: "Just something about the way the day's gone so far."

A few feet away from Hurt, at the front of the room, was a box containing 85 numbered metal disks. Within minutes, at 9 a.m. Friday, 85 new House members would draw to determine the order for selecting new House offices.

The lottery is a biennial spectacle in Washington, a fleeting moment of unfiltered emotion in the larval stage of new legislators. On Friday, they prayed, heckled each other, rubbed each other for luck, crossed their fingers, whooped when they "won" and winced when they "lost."

The scene played out until almost midafternoon.

"I think it's okay to be excited," said Rep.-elect Bobby Schillling (R-Ill.), one of the many in a large, celebrated and slightly feared freshman class who had campaigned for limited government. As the day wore on, several seemed to see the downside of being excited about snagging prime taxpayer-funded office space.

9 a.m.

When 9 a.m. came, new members were called to the box in alphabetical order and were told by the House's superintendent, William Weidemeyer, that try as they might, lucky dances would not work. That didn't stop the new members from trying any number of rituals:

David Cicceline (D-R.I.) stirred the chips around before he chose. No. 56.

Jeffrey Duncan (R-S.C.) pointed to the sky and crossed his fingers. No. 21.

Bill Huizenga (R-Mich.) brought forward Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) - who previously pulled No. 1 - and rubbed Gardner for luck.

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