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Old 12-19-2008, 02:30 AM   #1
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From Campaign to Congress: No Respite for New Members and Staff

The day after Mark Begich's protracted Senate race against Alaska Republican Sen. Ted Stevens concluded, the resumes began rolling in.

Upon Begich's victory Nov. 19, the campaign began receiving unsolicited applications to work for the Senator-elect, "well over" 200 in the first three weeks, said spokeswoman Julie Hasquet. So many resumes were coming in that the campaign quickly established an online application form to help organize the deluge.

There has been little respite for incoming members such as Begich, mayor of Anchorage, or their staffs as they balance wrapping up loose ends in their home states with preparing a new life in Washington.

Just nine weeks separate Election Day from swearing-in Jan. 6, and in that time, new members must hire congressional staff, establish relationships with future colleagues, learn about the legislative process, meet with home state advocates, set up their offices, start planning their personal move to Washington and a deal with a myriad of additional obligations.

For some future lawmakers, including Begich, the time available to handle these tasks was cut even shorter by a race that remained undecided weeks after Nov. 4.

Since his win, Begich has focused on forming his own transition team in Anchorage.

"It's been challenging because he's still serving mayor," Hasquet said of the Congressional transition, adding, "Senator-elect Begich is getting multiple requests for folks who want to meet with him as the incoming senator. So [we're] just trying to juggle all that and accommodate everybody's needs. It's a very busy time, but a very exciting time."

Hasquet served as spokeswoman for Begich's campaign where she said she and other staffers worked seven days a week, sometimes 16 hours a day towards the end of the race. "That was very intense," Hasquet said.

Hasquet said that the daily grind has slowed somewhat during the transition, but she expected the hours would pick up once again in January.

Julie Edwards, who is handling press for Democratic Sen.-elect Jeff Merkley of Oregon, said the pace of their office continues to be "pretty brisk" but there are now more chances she may work a regular "9 to 5" day.

"There's still the possibility of seeing my home over the weekend now which maybe was not so much the case in the last few weeks of the campaign," Edwards said. Edwards joined Merkley's campaign as a member of the communications team and will also fill that role on the Hill.

Some of Edwards' duties during the transition include fielding requests from individuals who want to meet with the incoming Senator in addition to press and scheduling requests, balancing the senator-elect's meetings, and handling office management duties.

Merkley is finishing up his term as Speaker of the Oregon House and has attended special sessions of the state legislature since his defeat of Republican Sen. Gordon H. Smith.

One challenge for Merkley's transition office is the "coast to coast travel" which Edwards adds "can complicate things."

For Edwards, who worked on the Hill before joining up with Merkley, the move back to D.C. was an easy decision. But as lawmakers seek out staffers with home-state ties, distance can become a factor for some potential employees.

"Oregon is maybe a little bit of a special case because geographically we are so far from D.C. and it can be a difficult move for people to make," Edwards said.

In Begich's office, Hasquet will serve as press secretary from Alaska. She says she was unwilling to "uproot" her young children and move to Washington.

Job prospects for Democrats in D.C. have expanded in number with the incoming Democratic President-elect Barack Obama as well as the gains made at the House and Senate levels. Democrats experienced a net gain of 21 seats in the House and 7 seats in the Senate.

Consequently, job availability for Republican staffers has diminished.

Hasquet noted that Republican Stevens' office has indicated that some Stevens staffers expressed a desire to work for Democrat Begich.

Jeff Ostermayer, spokesman for incoming Florida Republican Rep. Tom Rooney, estimates job interest in working for the Congressman-elect has been greater in D.C. than back home in Florida. "With the situation that is on the Hill, there's been a lot of Hill folks interested," Ostermayer said.

Rooney, who defeated Democratic Rep. Tim Mahoney in Florida's 16th District, hired Brian Crawford to serve as Chief of Staff. Crawford worked for Republican Rep. Ric Keller, who was defeated in his 8th District re-election race by Democratic lawyer Alan Grayson.

Rooney has announced a handful of staff hires, but continues to work on filling additional positions.

Rooney, a lawyer, has attended multiple orientations for new members in addition to the one provided by the House, including sessions sponsored by Harvard University and another by the conservative Heritage Foundation.

Ostermayer said Rooney has also been making it a priority to meet with local elected officials throughout the district "to get a feel of the local needs... so he can be fully prepared to hit the ground running on January 2nd."

As for Rooney's staff's workload, Ostermayer said little has changed.

"It slowed down for a little bit, but it's picked right back up. We're going full blast just like we were during the campaign," Ostermayer added.

A total of 54 new House representatives, 2 delegates and 9 new Senators will be sworn-in Jan. 6.

source: CQPolitics.com - http://news.yahoo.com/s/cq/20081219/pl_cq_politics/politics2999316 [link]
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