By Reginald Stuart
WASHINGTON, DC — Starting a new job is always a challenge. The new job is for far-right extremists Congressman Andrew Ogles, selected by Republican voters this month to represent them in the U.S. House of Representatives from Tennessee’s District 5th District, to speak and vote in on their behalf, is a tall order with many rewards and challenges ahead, say Capitol Hill observers.
Stepping into to the political major league nationally differs significantly in real time from the civics class taught in public and private school and colleges throughout the area, Ogles and his family will learn. More simple ways of life and engaging with the public will be upstaged and replaced by government business, and listening to lobbyists for different issues, hearings and votes.
People Ogles used to recognize on the streets of Columbia and neighboring communities where he campaigned, will not be able to reach him by phone, or chat on the corner. They will have to make appointments, get squeezed into an increasingly tight schedule, Capitol Hill observers say. He will lose touch with people who could once call him ‘close’ friend, not because he wants to say farewell.
He will miss local treats like breakfast with eggs and tasty grits at the Centennial Café, miss the full-blown debates during dinner at Swett’s and the upscale meals at J. Alexander’s, served by attentive table waiters with fresh tablecloths. Not that he ever entertained such ideas. Now, they are more unlikely.
In short, the job is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with different challenges coming out of left field without notice. His new challenges will demand Ogles and his family to test their mettle, sacrifice their time, sweat and stamina.
It takes more than the fiery sales pitch of the campaign to deliver the bacon back home.
Ogles is not a political novice. A staunch extreme conservative and fiery orator on the political right, he once served as mayor of Maury County. The nation’s seat of government here in Washington is quite a different landscape to learn, understand and endure. Here are some 10 basics in his new civics class—the 2023 Class of Congress.
The constitution mandates that the new Congress convene at noon on Jan. 3 of odd-numbered years. Members are sworn in by the Speaker of the House in the Capitol building. The Speaker of the House is still to be determined as are many of its members, as votes in many states are still being tabulated. The Speaker of the House position is in doubt at this point depending on the outcome of voters. The majority party members of the House will determine who the next Speaker of the House will be.
1. Congress has 535 voting members, including 435members of the House and 100 members of the Senate. The number of House members allotted each state depends on the population based on U.S. Census numbers taken once each 10 years. The Census Bureau reports each head count to respective state legislatures which then design voting districts based on that population count. State populations rise and fall based on births and deaths. The Census Bureau keeps track with an official count. The state legislatures vote on congressional district sizes, making sure district counts are accurate. The Senate, which guarantees and limits, has two members per state, regardless of political party.
2. After voting in federal elections, and assuring all eligible voters get to vote, the state and local communities count votes and verify their legality. To win an election, candidates must meet certain legal requirements and get 50 percent of the votes in that respective contest.
3. Like Rep. Ogles, each winner of a House of Representatives seat is paid $174,000 a year from the federal budget, plus he/she gets a top medical insurance plan from the government, part of which he/she pays out-of- pocket.
4. In terms of protection services, which has risen in significance since the Trump inspired assault on the Senate, Capitol Police patrol the Capitol grounds and buildings. Capitol Police are not assigned to individual members of Congress unless they hold top leadership positions, like the House Speaker and the Senate Majority and Minority Leaders or unless there is a serious threat to an individual member. So, when rank-and-file members, of which Rep. Ogles is considered, go back to their districts, they have no special protection.
5. Each House member gets an annual budget from the federal Treasury ranging from $1.2 to $1.9 million. For instance, a member of Congress from California gets more of a travel allowance than one from nearby Maryland.
6. As for office space housing on Capitol Hill, it’s a toss-up.
The House assigns offices to new members based on a lottery system. Each new member picks a number, and then gets to pick an office based on the number they picked. That won’t be decided until next month, after both political parties who has won their election contest.
7. Each House member gets to pick the number of staffers they have in their personal office and pay their salaries out of the office budget they receive. If the member is also a committee or subcommittee chairman or ranking member, they also get to select staff for the committees and subcommittees.
8. As for staff, the press secretary is generally considered one of the most important staffers in an office. It is the press secretary’s job to field questions from reporters and others seeking public information. The press secretary often runs the members social media accounts and ideally keep the member of congress in touch with reality.
9. Each party’s leadership picks who is assigned to which committees. The number of party members on each committee is determined by the party’s ratio of members in the House or Senate.
For instance, if Democrats and Republicans are evenly divided in the House or Senate as a whole, their numbers are evenly divided on committees. If one party has a big advantage in overall numbers, they get a big advantage in committee slots as well. With final elections still to be decided by voters and party leaders, the scramble is still afoot over committee membership. For sure Rep. Ogles, will have to campaign again to have a role in his new arena.
10. Rep. Ogles may come back to the Fifth District talking like he has marbles in his mouth. That may stem from trying to articulate legislative language and give it some commonsense meaning. For example, he may at some point attack “pork barrel” legislation that is “larded” with funds a street here and road project there as unnecessary spending and later realize it funds some project in his community.