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New Virginia Reps Get Crash Course in Congress

Rog Cogswell / Creative Commons

Virginia just sent five new lawmakers to Washington who have spent the past few weeks going through freshmen orientation. Matt Laslo has a snapshot of their time at the Capitol.

Elections are tough and intense, but legislating is more difficult. “Of course we haven’t had a chance to relax since Election Day,” said Northern Virginia Democratic Congresswoman-elect Jennifer Wexton.

The incoming class has been bustling around the Capitol with large binders and briefing materials in tow as they’re trained on how to turn their campaign rhetoric into policy. Wexton says the crash course is intense but inspiring. "But it’s amazing to be here with my new colleagues and to be here in Congress, you know on the floor of the House of Representatives. It’s humbling and a little bit surreal, but very exciting.”

The state’s five newly minted lawmakers are now charged with overseeing a more than one million dollar office budget while also getting tutored on how to avoid ethics violations. But Wexton says there are other important lessons they’re learning too. “Right now we need to just learn our way around. Learn the different parts of the clerk’s office  you know the different groups we’ll be working with. There’s so much just to learn from getting from point A to point B, and then after that hopefully the other stuff will come.”

While Virginia voters sent three new Democrats to Washington on Election Day, they also sent two new Republicans, including  Congressman-elect Ben Cline from the Shenandoah Valley.  He says they’ve been getting tips from the state’s current majority GOP-delegation.  “Denver Riggleman and I are the two new guys when it comes to Republicans, so we’re looking to them for some guidance  moving forward,” Cline said.

While Cline and Riggleman will be locked in the minority they’re optimistic about their chances to represent their voters in Washington. And Cline says over the past few weeks that’s meant forging relationships with incoming members of all stripes. “I’ve gotten to meet some great folks from both sides of the aisle. Meet the entire Virginia delegation, so I am getting to now both the new Republicans and the new Democrats. I look forward to working with them to improve the way government works for the citizens of this country.”

On Thursday the freshman class was given a bipartisan briefing by veteran lawmakers on how to conduct constituent services. Virginia Beach-area Democratic Congresswoman-elect Elaine Luria says she took that training session to heart. “That’s one of my key priorities. I want to stay connected with constituents. Doors are open. Lights are on. Phones are on," Luria said. "And it doesn’t matter if someone voted for me or not. If someone has trouble with their social security or their veterans benefits. We’re going to build up a good team and make sure that they’re trained and able to respond to those issues that people have across the district.”

The new member orientation now moves to Boston for training sessions at Harvard. And then Luria is heading to Israel with a bipartisan group of incoming lawmakers.  “So I was invited to participate on that. So I’m looking forward to continuing to learn and learn about issues and continuing to put my staff together so we’re ready to go on January 3rd.”   

And as Virginia’s five incoming lawmakers are learning, the pace of a lawmaker doesn’t ever seem to let up, which means January third will be here in the blink of an eye.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.