All in their places with bright, shining faces, the 52-member Republican freshman class of the House of Representatives gathered last night at a hotel at Dulles Airport -- outside the 20-mile Carter-kept territory limit -- to toast themselves at a Republican orientation dinner. They drank beer and wine (California grapes, of course) ate prime ribs and carrot cake and listened to welcoming speeches by Guy Vander Jagt (R-Mich.) and Republican Chairman Bill Brock, who stressed the importance of getting reelected even before these member-elects have been sworn in.
That's politics, folks.
No, they didn't wear beanies, but this freshman class was as eager as any that ever vowed to win one for The Gipper. A joyous group, they smiled like Miss America candidates, and those smiles belonged to mostly young faces -- average age 40; six under 30, two, 27. They wore lots of three-piece suits and came from all over the country; 14 each from the North Central and South, 13 from the Northeast and 11 from the West. They are Chargers and Mavericks and the Slightly Awed, but they rode in on the white horse of Conservatism and they mean business. To borrow a Democratic phrase, they're pleased as punch to be here.
Nobody asked where to get a limo or where the best golf courses were, or why, considering the Reagan landslide, you can't make a right turn on red on so many District streets -- all the things you'd associate with a hard-driving Republican class -- but if you had been there to shake some hands and work the room, these were some of the things you might have heard:
Jack Fields, 28, 2th District of Texas (Houston), businessman (owns a cemetery): "You want to know the reason I ran? Bob Eckhardt. He's ultra liberal. He continuously voted to centralize the government bureaucracy. He voted against tax cuts and against military spending. He represented everything that's wrong with this country. My only reason for running was Eckhardt -- he's that bad . . . I've only been to Washington maybe eight times in my life. I'm not your ordinary politician. I come from a working-class district and I worked my way through college and law school selling cemetery plots. I'm not in any exalted position being here. That's not why I came. I'm here to do a job, to help make America great again . . . I'm really impressed with the caliber of this freshman class. You're not going to see a quiet class. We're going after it.We're going to beat them. We're up here to change America. They've given us a mandate to do it."
John LeBoutillier, 27, 6th District of New York (suburban Long Island), writer (published book "Harvard Hates America"): "This is the first time I've ever run for office, and that's because I wasn't old enough before. I'm the youngest entering congressman.I've been in campaigns as a worker since I was 20. You get hooked. I think the Republican Party let me run opposed this time because they thought my opponent -- Lester Wolff -- was unbeatable. They probably figured I'd lose now, and then, maybe in two years I'd win. But I said, 'I want to win now. I want to take this guy out now' . . . Understand, if you don't do something decent you're gone. If things are worse after two years, we're all going out, and it ought to be that way . . . I'm sure I differ with a lot of these guys here because I don't think government is inherently bad. Some of these guys want to swing the pendulum back to the 1880s. I agree with them on more military spending, but I see myself as a Teddy Roosevelt Republican -- he helped people. I believe in national health insurance, and that sends some of these guys up the wall . . . I'd like to find out where the money goes in this country. When I was in eighth grade the federal budget was $98 billion. Now it's $631 billion. Where the hell does all that money go? I think we have to study all the programs, from welfare to defense, and if they are no good, then we have to trash them."
Wendell Bailey, 40, 8th District of Missouri (Ozark Mountain area), state legislator and owner of Bailey Motors: "I'm green as a gourd. I've been to Washington three times in my life. My home town, Willow Springs, has a population of 2,054. Jefferson City, where I was for eight years in the legislature, has 30,000. I was really quite comfortable there. Here, I'm walking the streets looking for people I know. I say, 'Hi, how are you?' to people. They look at me like they think I'm crazy . . . You could get a two-bedroom apartment in Jeff City for $150. It's $600 here. I don't know how the folks back home are going to feel about that . . . I wandered the Capitol just looking for where my office would be. You have this card in your pocket that says -- Member Elect -- but you still get on that Members Only elevator with an apologetic look.You don't want to make a fool of yourself asking silly questions, but there are real things you want to know -- like, how do you ride the subway? . . .
"I'm cautiously optimistic. I've been in a state legislature for eight years. I know how things move. But there are some people here who are really eager . Everybody's glad-handing. The post-pregnancy depression will settle in. The slowdown when they hit smack up against the process."
Hal Rogers, 42, 5th District of Kentucky (mostly rural), attorney: "I first came here as a high school senior on a class trip. I was so awed by this city when I first saw it. I guess I've always dreamed of running for Congress. My predecessor, who's retiring, took me on the floor the other day and introduced me to some members, people I'd seen on TV, people I'd read about. It was like a dream. It was so overpowering, it almost didn't register. It was very humbling."
Hal Daub, 39, 2nd District of Nebraska (Omaha), businessman: "My goal is to be an effective congressman. I have no interest whatsoever in being a big man in Washington. I'll shy away from all that. I'm not going to catch Potomac fever. I'm kind of old shoe actually. I didn't come here for my health -- I came here to get a job done. Balance the books. Stop the government printing presses. Change the mindset of this country."
Jim Coyne, 34, 8th District of Pennsylvania (suburban Bucks County), businessman: "We looked at this house in Bethesda and the real estate agent had given us exactly what we asked for. And then she said, 'It fits all your specifications, but there's been one slight change since we last spoke -- the price has gone up by $200,000.'"