Nine of the incoming 84 members of the House are returning to Capitol Hill
Most of them lost their seats in 2010 when Republicans surged into control of the House
Some returning members say their election losses weren't as much about them as the climate
Lawmaker who served in '90s says Congress once worked across aisle
Among the 84 House freshmen who unpacked new offices last week, a few are intimately familiar with doing the opposite – packing up and moving out of the Capitol.
Nine members of the new class are former members of Congress who left Capitol Hill either by choice or by force. Redrawn congressional districts helped some of them get back; others had a change of heart after leaving voluntarily.
Of the seven returning Democrats, almost all lost in 2010 when Republicans swept into control of the House.
Though each used the two-year hiatus differently, many say the same thing about returning: The election losses were somewhat beyond the lawmakers’ control, and they plan on being the same people they were when they last served in Congress.
Rep. Dina Titus, a Nevada Democrat who lost in 2010, remained engaged after her loss by teaching political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and serving on the U.S. Civil Rights Commission. She said her close loss was “not a surprise” to her and should be chalked up to a bad year for Democrats.
“My positions, my values, my stance on things are no different now than they were then,” Titus said. “I won’t change my principles in anyway. I would still vote for the health care bill, the American Recovery Act.”
Titus’ vote for President Barack Obama’s signature first-term legislation became a big part of the 2010 campaign and helped her opponent, Joe Heck, define the freshman congresswoman. Heck, who represents Nevada’s 3rd District, is now one of Titus’ colleagues.
This story is familiar for Rep. Alan Grayson, a Florida Democrat who is back after being ousted in 2010. Grayson said he thinks that there was “nothing that we could have done that would make a difference in the result” and that his loss in 2010 was somewhat out of his control.
Grayson might be the best-known member of the class because of his rant on the House floor during the health care debate when he said that the Republicans’ plan for health care was for Americans not to get sick and to “die quickly” if they did.
Grayson’s outspokenness earned him the ire of conservatives and the affection of Democrats. And the fact that he represented a reliably Republican district doomed his re-election bid.
In returning to Congress, Grayson said he wants to do more of what he did in his first term.
“I look back at the things that we accomplished, and I want to do more of them,” Grayson said about cutting foreclosures and getting more grant money for his district. “We did a lot of good things for people in our district.”
In coming back to Congress, both Titus and Grayson swapped out notably swing districts for reliably Democratic ones.
When former Rep. Shelley Berkley left her seat to run for Senate, Titus opted to run in Nevada’s newly drawn 1st District after her home switched districts. The new district, which includes much of Las Vegas, including the Strip, is now widely considered the safest Democratic district in Nevada.
Grayson, too, upgraded to a safer seat when he moved from Florida’s 8th to the 9th District, which includes 43.4% registered Democrats to 28.2% registered Republicans. The Democratic congressman ran unopposed in the party’s primary and defeated Todd Long by almost 30 percentage points in the general election.
“This district is entirely different,” Grayson said. “I have the freedom to concentrate on the job rather than to have to concentrate on the 24-month campaign.”
Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, a Democrat from Arizona who also lost in 2010, said she looks at the loss as a “learning experience.” Though she was hesitant to say she wasn’t going to change for this term, Kirkpatrick did say her first term was a good one.
“I am very proud of my votes in my first term,” Kirkpatrick said. “It was a good session. … It was a good term.”
While still considered freshmen, the returnees get a bit more seniority then their first-year colleagues. In office selection, for example, they get to pick first and don’t have to participate in drawing for offices.
Other new members’ hiatuses were a bit longer than one term – when Republican Rep. Matt Salmon of Arizona first served in Congress, Bill Clinton was president, future presidential candidate Newt Gingrich was speaker of the House and the federal budget was balanced.
Salmon was first elected in 1994 and served Arizona’s 1st District for three terms. In 2001, the congressman left the Capitol because he promised his constituents that he would not serve more then three terms in Congress.
Even though Salmon acknowledges he “won’t be doing that this time,” he seems quite nostalgic for his first three terms and hopes his next one will be similar.
“I left Congress, and I felt like we made a real difference,” Salmon said. “Then they blew it. They totally blew it. They started spending like a bunch of drunken sailors on shore leave.”
Though times have changed, Salmon acknowledged that “this isn’t his first rodeo” and working on Capitol Hill is familiar to him. An example: His new office has the same phone number as his first, and his congressional pin “looks almost exactly like” the one he received on his first day of Congress.
Now, Salmon said, it’s time to get back to the principles he felt were successful during his first stint in Congress.
“What I would really like to do is get back to the point where we are on message about what really is ailing America,” Salmon said. “There was a time when Republicans and Democrats truly were working together.”