Freshmen lawmakers mostly a veteran political

W By Janet Hook

wASHINGTON – For a crop of newcomers, these freshmen are remarkably experienced.

The 60 or so people just elected to the House and Senate have come to Washington this week to learn the ropes, but some could be viewed as almost overqualified for the job. They include two former presidential candidates, a former White House senior adviser and a governor who has deigned to become a mere House member.

But the new lawmakers all have one thing in common: They were elected in a year when President Bush dominated the political landscape.

“Part of presidential power is how members of Congress interpret what happened” in the last election, said Charles Jones, emeritus professor of political science at the University of Wisconsin. “They are going to be attentive to what Bush wants.”

The result is a new generation of Republican lawmakers who reflect the old-fashioned virtue of loyalty to their president, and a hardy cadre of Democrats who in several cases won against the odds.

The final makeup of the new Congress hinges on the outcome of four undecided House races – in Colorado, Hawaii, Louisiana and New York – and a Senate race in Louisiana, where Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu faces a Dec. 7 runoff against Republican Suzanne Haik Terrell. As of now, the House will include 228 Republicans, 202 Democrats and one independent who usually sides with the Democrats; the Senate will have at least 51 Republicans, 47 Democrats and one independent who sides with the Democrats.

The freshman class – roughly 50 new House members and 10 new senators – will not be sworn in until the new Congress convenes in January. But they are in Washington this week to get office assignments, begin assembling staff and attend orientation sessions.

The new members include a paper mill worker from Maine – Rep.-elect Michael Michaud, a Democrat. There’s also a multimillionaire former senator, Sen.-elect Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., who already has a federal building named after him, and Sen.-elect Elizabeth Dole, R-N.C., who collected almost $900,000 in speaking fees in 2001. And Dole and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., are veterans of the presidential campaign trail; both sought the Republican nomination in 2000.

The House Republican freshman class includes a celebrity of the disputed 2000 presidential election – Rep.-elect Katherine Harris, who as Florida’s secretary of state was a key figure in the controversial recount that delivered the White House to Bush.

History was made with the election to the House of Linda T. Sanchez, D-Calif., which will give Congress its first sister lawmakers. Her older sibling, Rep. Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., won her fourth term.

They will be joined in the House by brothers from Florida – Rep.-elect Mario Diaz-Balart and Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart, who won his sixth term. Both are Republicans.

Other races rewarded people for whom politics has been a family business. New senators include John Sununu, R-N.H., whose father, John H. Sununu, served as White House chief of staff in the first Bush administration, and Mark Pryor, D-Ark., whose father also served in the Senate and who is a former governor of Arkansas.

Both parties sent back to Washington two of their accomplished political operatives. Democrat Rahm Emmanuel, former top aide to President Clinton, won a House seat in Illinois; Republican Tom Cole, former top aide to the Republican National Committee, won a House seat in Oklahoma.

The election did little to advance the representation of women and blacks. The new Congress will include 62 women in the House and 13 in the Senate – the same as in the current Congress. There will continue to be no blacks in the Senate and 39 in the House. The number of Latinos in the House will increase from 19 to 23, with none in the Senate.

Another new House member will be William J. Janklow, a Bush confidante who has been governor of South Dakota for 16 of the last 24 years. Governors running for another office generally seek a Senate seat rather than one in the House.

Two members of Congress will be making return engagements. Lautenberg, 78, retired in 2000 after serving three Senate terms. But desperate New Jersey Democrats turned to him in early October as their ballot replacement for Sen. Robert Torricelli, who abruptly ended his re-election bid because of questions surrounding his personal finances.

Rep.-elect Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., served in the House from 1983-95; he is returning after giving up his seat for a failed 1994 Senate bid.

“This is an amazingly savvy group,” Jones said.