In Congress' version of king of the hill, Rep.-elect Bill Orton, D-Utah, had little luck Wednesday in a lottery to decide official seniority and pecking order for office space.
Among the 42 incoming freshmen with no previous congressional service, Orton drew a lousy No. 35 from the box - making him rank 434th out of 440 House members and territorial delegates.Actually, that's the number the other freshmen left for him in the lottery. He was the last to draw because he arrived later than the others from Boston and several days of policy seminars at Harvard University. He rolled his eyes and frowned when he saw his high number.
It meant Orton didn't have much choice for office space after the 433 other members who rank higher in seniority finished choosing.
So Orton ended up with one of the smallest offices on the top floor of the least prestigious House office building - Room 1723 in the Longworth Building, sometimes described as the "Motel 6" of House office buildings because it has what's necessary but isn't lavish. It also has very slow elevators.
However, Orton is conveniently just a few doors down the hall from fellow Rep. Wayne Owens, D-Utah - who has one of the few large offices in that area of the building, obtained because of higher seniority coming from his election to four non-consecutive terms.
Orton looked on the bright side, saying, "There really isn't a bad office in Washington. I'd rather have any office here than the office my opponent has in Provo.
"I don't plan to be sitting around the office much anyway. I plan to be in committee hearings, on the House floor or working in Utah more often."
Orton's office has a mere 717 square feet of space in two rooms, compared to Owens' 1,146 square feet in three rooms. Orton will be eligible to select later a one-room "annex" somewhere on Capitol Hill, also chosen in order of seniority.
Orton said he chose his office figuring it would be convenient for his staff, the press and visitors from Utah to be close to Owens. "The only real choice I had left when it was my turn was what floor of Longworth I would be on. So I chose to be near Wayne."
To show how unpopular the seventh floor of Longworth has been, the winners of the last four special elections to replace members who resigned during the past Congress all ended up there because it was the last choice for space.
That includes the member who now has the office that Orton will move into - Rep. Susan Molinari, D-N.Y. She won a special election this year to replace her father, Rep. Guy Molinari, who resigned to become Staten Island borough president.
The process of picking offices began on Nov. 26 for those members with nine or more terms (the most senior member has 25), and ended Wednesday with the incoming freshmen.
Rep. Jim Hansen, R-Utah, who just was elected to his sixth term, has a large office in the House's most prestigious office building, the Rayburn Building - which he obtained two years ago. Aide Nancee Blockinger said Hansen is happy with it and didn't even bother to look for another office this year.
One reason the Rayburn building is the most prestigious is it has its own subway train to the Capitol, which other House office buildings do not. It's offices are also generally large and have fancy wood paneling.
Owens did look for a new office but couldn't find one that had a personal office for him larger than the 429 square-feet he already has for himself - which is about two-thirds the size of Orton's new office suite, according to Owens' top assistant, Scott Kearin.