Friday, 30 December 2016

Outgoing politicians: What’s next?

Being elected to a high office such as a senator or congressman in the United States is indeed an experience that no one serving in either of those positions will ever forget. But there are two other events in the lives of those politicians who lost the election that they will never forget. The memories of those two events will haunt them for the rest of their lives. The first event is learning that they lost the election. The second event is having to move out of their former spacious and luxurious offices. And gone are their staff who acted at the bidding of their masters.

The Rayburn Office Building is where the offices of the 169 Representatives are located. The building is one of the largest in Washington. (2.375 million square feet (220,644 m²) It contains 169 three-room suites for members, nine standings committee rooms, 16 subcommittee rooms, 51 committee staff rooms, and support facilities such as restaurants, a post office, a gymnasium, and a 1,600 car garage. The building is connected to the Capitol by a pedestrian tunnel and a subway with two electric cars.

Steve Israel represented the Third Congressional District of New York as a Democrat, He was elected six times for this two-year stints. He was very fortunate when it came to the location of his office suite in the Rayburn Office Building.  It had a commanding view that stretched to the Lincoln Memorial. He no longer has that office anymore since he decided that his 16 years in service was enough so he chose not to run for office as a Congressperson

After the November election, (2016) all 53 of those members who were not re-elected were required to leave their offices so that their offices could be redecorated for their replacements in the new Congress. The offices would have the old carpet removed and new carpet taking its place. The new tenant would bring in his or her own furniture all aid for by his allotment of funds. If some of the walls needed a new paint job, so be it. The same applies for wallpaper.
The outgoing members will remember the days when they were first elected. It’s not just new and departing members’ trading places; those who remain also took the opportunity to claim offices that are bigger, better, higher, closer to the elevators, or with any view other than the Capitol power plant spewing exhaust. Steve Israel was fortunate to get one of the better suites.
When facing the challenge of choosing a new office, very few members are undecideds. Decisions are made quickly. An army of painters and furniture movers swarm the Hill. Walls are stripped of grip-and-grin photos, carpets are lifted and laid. Files are boxed, personal belongings shipped. And the doors are locked behind the outgoing tenants.
The former congresspersons can attend a panel discussion for those who are facing “life after Congress.” It is like a heart opration pre-brief.
 It is obvious that the former tenants may wish to finish some of the work that they had started so until a time before the inauguration of the president takes place, they are corralled into a makeshift cubical in one of the restaurants in the building. Each of the former tenants is given a small table, two chairs and a computer.  The odour in the cubicals is French fries and tuna fish.
They could still park near the Capitol (but not in the garages); give tours of the House Floor (but only if the speaker approved their request) and bypass Capitol metal detectors (so long as they had their congressional lapel pins and proper forms of identification). 
The only thing that moves swiftly in Congress is the timetable governing how departing members are jettisoned from their cushy offices and how the offices are reallocated, refurbished and repopulated between Election Day and the swearing-in of the new Congress on January 3rd
As a final degradation, if they wish to be close to the inauguration of the new president, they have two seats each to President-elect Donald J. Trump’s inauguration. They are folding seats placed on the lawn below the place where the inauguration will take place. Of course, they will see and hear everything since large TV screens are placed everywhere.
After the inauguration is complete, freshly scrubbed members will occupy their freshly refurbished offices. There will be no trace of the former tenants who once populated the place.
For some of the outgoing tenants, the shock of going from having their pictures hanging on walls to becoming just a face in the crowd will feel like too much to bear. They may find that the humiliations of the process serve a necessary function: an acclimatization from the rarefied atmosphere of congressional life to the normal life of a private citizen.
This is actually a vital reminder that they were after all, merely Capitol Hill tenants with two-year leases. The intoxicating prestige of Washington ultimately yields to the sobriety of private life.                             

I often give the following advice to young people. “Get a hobby because when you retire, what are you going to do next?” My hobby is writing and I spend approximately seven hours a day in my study enjoying myself with my hobby. When my wife retired, her hobby is working with stained glass in her small workroom in our basement.

Politicians should look ahead and find something that they can do after they have left their role as Congresspersons or other elected positions that will maintain their continued interest in life after their eviction from their offices.

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