TUPELO – Congressman-elect Alan Nunnelee spent his first week in Washington, D.C., meeting his future colleagues, picking out his office and hunting for an apartment.
The Tupelo Republican, who won the Nov. 2 general election to represent north Mississippi in Congress, traveled to the Capitol Nov. 14-21 as part of freshman orientation.
He will officially take office when the next Congress convenes in January.
“It’s been 34 years since I went through college freshman orientation, but the things we did were really similar to what a college freshman goes through,” Nunnelee told the Daily Journal after his trip. “You’ve got to learn the buildings, you learn the process we go through, you meet your fellow incoming freshmen.”
Learning the ropes
They also learned about budgeting for their congressional staffs and offices, heard about the top issues facing the nation and got a sense of how committee assignments would be made.
“An unwritten rule is that no freshmen serve on A committees,” Nunnelee said. “But because of the massive size of this freshman class … there will be freshmen named to A committees.”
A committees are more important than B committees, and assignments will be made sometime next month.
As part of the trip, the 54-year-old businessman and former state senator participated in the U.S. House Republican Conference, which elected its officers and held a reception for new members in the Old House Chamber.
“This is the place where John Quincy Adams and Abraham Lincoln served, a place where great debate took place in our nation’s history,” Nunnelee said. Future Speaker of the House “John Boehner spoke at that banquet and then he led us to the new Chamber. I have to admit, that was a very emotional experience.”
Nunnelee said he and his wife Tori held hands and prayed upon entering the hall to ask for God’s guidance.
While there, he also met dozens of other incoming freshmen and forged early friendships with the people he’ll serve alongside in Congress.
“The most exciting thing of the week is to actually see the face of this wave that swept across America on Nov. 2,” Nunnelee said. “It’s one thing to read about it in the newspaper, but to sit down and talk to these men and women who bring a passion to change the direction of America was fascinating.”
He said he spent most of his time with the contingency of incoming conservative Republicans from the rural Southern states, including Martha Roby from Alabama’s 2nd District, Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee’s 4th District and Stephen Fincher of Tennessee’s 8th District.
“I also spent a lot of time talking to Steve Palazzo and Gregg Harper about how we’d work together,” Nunnelee said of Mississippi’s two other Republican congressmen.
Selection of offices
And most of the incoming freshmen got to participate in a lottery to select their new congressional offices. Eighty-five of them drew numbers, which then determined the order in which they picked out their digs.
“I drew No. 84,” Nunnelee said. “I jokingly said that’s why I stay away from the casinos.”
He chose the office of outgoing U.S. Rep. Mary Fallin, R-Okla., who will leave Congress to become her state’s next governor.
But perhaps the most powerful moment for the congressman-elect happened as he and his wife walked to the U.S. Capitol building and encountered a group of armed guards.
“All these Capitol police all had bulletproof vests and were holding rifles, and Tori looked at me and said, ‘Is there somebody important here, who are they protecting?’” Nunnelee recalled. “And I said, ‘They’re here to protect you and me.’ It was a humbling experience to walk in and realize that I am part of that.”
EMILY LE COZ / NEMS Daily Journal