The first meeting of the 113th Congress was full of pomp and ceremony. Fourteen California freshmen gathered their friends and families and raised their right hands to become the newest members of the U.S. House of Representatives. Their biggest challenge at the moment is staffing their offices.
Six-year-old Madeline Valadao witnessed history on the House floor as the new Congress began its work. "The worst part was having to stand up," she says, "and the good part was when my dad got sworn in."
Her dad is freshman Congressman David Valadao, a Republican from the Central Valley. Valadao landed a prized spot on the House Appropriations Committee. He brought what he calls his “team members” from the two years he served in the California legislature. He’s also hired “two or three” D.C. locals. "As long as they’re open minded and willing to work, and willing to think for themselves," he says, "that’s what I need on my team. I don’t need any ‘yes’ people around me."
Democratic Congresswoman Gloria Negrete McLeod from Chino is also an old Sacramento hand. She brought two state staffers and an intern to Washington. She hasn’t hired anyone else — yet. But she knows what she wants.
"They have to click not only with you, but with each other," she says, to work cohesively as a unit. She adds that if there’s one "oddball that doesn’t fit in there, it makes it harder for everybody to work together, to work efficiently and effectively and smoothly."
Republican Doug LaMalfa of Redding figures that the people who answered the phones at his district office when he served in the California legislature are exactly the right ones to answer the phones now that he’s in Washington.
"They know the communities, they know the people and the people know them," he says. "It’s just a matter of being able to switch gears and start talking Social Security and veterans' affairs and federal agencies versus state ones."
His D.C. office staff will be 50 percent Californians, 50 percent staffers with Capitol Hill experience. There’s no trick to landing those experienced staffers. LaMalfa — with a nod to Mitt Romney — says they find you. "We get binders and binders full of people applying for positions."
Democratic Congressman Mark Takano of Riverside didn’t have any Sacramento staff to call upon. In his previous job, he taught school. His first post-swearing-in lesson in American politics: you have to choose sides even when nobody elected you. You’re either a Republican staffer or a Democratic staffer. You stay that way your entire working life. This presents a challenge for Takano, who represents a county that Republicans have represented for a couple of decades.
"We don’t really have a Democratic infrastructure in my district," he says. "Finding the seasoned people in the community is difficult." So he asked for advice from current members, such as fellow Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff from Burbank. "I have a great deal of respect for Adam," he says. "So when a respected member like Adam says there’s a staffer I want you to take a look at, you look at his résumé." Takano hired the Schiff staffer as his press secretary.
The Congressional freshmen won’t have much time to interview more applicants. They leave D.C. this weekend for more orientation — this time at Colonial Williamsburg in Virginia, hours from Washington. Then, it’s back to their districts before they return to Capitol Hill on January 14th.