Being on the inside track on Capitol Hill doesn't necessarily mean you can relax. Not when the folks next door are already checking out the view and measuring the space in your lame duck member's office. Not when you're shipping all his/her possessions back home, and you don't know where you'll be four weeks hence.
"A lot of people are on tenterhooks," says William Blacklow, press secretary to Rep. George Miller (D-Calif.). "They'll find out if they have jobs when they find out today or tomorrow who the chairman of their committee is." Those identified too closely with a previous Democratic chairman are in greater jeopardy of being swept out.
The jobs of Republican committee staffers, who comprise roughly one-third of the committee aides, likewise hinge on the selection of the committees' ranking minority members.
A trusted aide to a member for several terms may have great credentials but few contacts and less experience in finding a new position. There is also the problem that congressional vacancies, at least in incumbent offices, generally occur at bottom staff positions rather than top, where the jobs are often filled by trusted junior staff members.
If you've been earning $50,000 a year, like some committee staffers, there aren't that many comparable positions around. And committee staffers can't count on their experience to protect their jobs; new members are often pressed to reward key aides with plum committee posts instead.
The whole process is "immensely dispiriting," says David Dreyer, who's gone through a Hill upheaval twice.
In 1980, following the defeat of his first Hill boss, former representative Andy Maguire (D-N.J.), "I went through my Rolodex. I begged all the people I had developed a relationship with to look out for me. I called up all the other Democrats on the two committees on which Maguire served. I put together a group of members I thought would be desirable to work for, based on ideology, ADA ratings, legislative interest, and sent letters blindly to those offices and called people in those offices.
"At the same time I was doing this I was going through the depressing procedure of packing up all Maguire's wordly possessions and sending them back to New Jersey."
As it turned out, his efforts were unnecessary. Through Maguire's recommendation, he became legislative aide to then-Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.). Two years later, after Moffett's luckless Senate bid, Dreyer began the process again, winning his current post as administrative assistant and press secretary to Rep. Stephen Solarz (D-N.Y.).
This time around, Dreyer is among those sitting pretty.
"My sister called after the election on Nov. 6 and said, 'Congratulations!' " Dreyer laughs, recalling the seeming-incongruity of that message following the Democratic defeat. "I didn't know what she was talking about . . .
"She said, 'Well, think about it. This is the first time since 1978 you haven't been looking for a job.' "