- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Like other freshman lawmakers, Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia is still finding his way around the U.S. Capitol. But amid the maze of hallways and meeting rooms, the Democrat at least has managed to locate the most crucial amenity.

“I found the bathroom,” he joked.

Mr. Warner, who served as governor of Virginia from 2002 to 2006, was one of 65 new members sworn in last week as part of the 111th Congress.

The freshman class consists of 53 men and 12 women. Forty are Democrats, 24 are Republicans and one is an independent. Seventeen are lawyers and four are physicians.

Mr. Warner, a 54-year-old telecommunications executive, joins three other former governors in the U.S. Senate - Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat; Mike Johanns, Nebraska Republican; and James E. Risch, Idaho Republican.

Thirteen of the freshmen have never held public office before.

Mr. Risch said his favorite moment of the week was having his children and grandchildren with him on his first day.

“It was great to walk through the halls of the Capitol and then introduce them to the vice president in the Old Senate Chamber,” Mr. Risch said, referring to a traditional photo opportunity for senators, their families and the vice president after the swearing-in ceremony on the Senate floor.

Mr. Risch cast his first vote Sunday, when he opted to end the debate on a land-use bill sponsored by fellow Idaho Republican, Sen. Michael D. Crapo.

“Now that I’ve cast my first vote on the Senate floor, I’m anxious to get to work on issues important to Idaho and the rest of the nation,” he said.

Freshman Rep. Chellie Pingree, Maine Democrat, likewise had a memorable week.

The congresswoman was accompanied on the House floor for the swearing-in ceremony by her daughter, Hannah Pingree, who was recently sworn in as Maine’s speaker of the House.

“We got a chance to take a picture with her and [House Speaker] Nancy Pelosi so that was really fun,” said Ms. Pingree, who served as the majority leader in the state Senate.

“You really do feel like a kid when you’re a new member of the House. We spend all the time lobbying leadership to get on a good committee, and my daughter is busy figuring out who to put on all the committees [in Maine’s House of Representatives].”

Ms. Pingree’s election marked the first time that the majority of a state’s congressional delegation is female: Maine’s two U.S. senators - Republicans Susan M. Collins and Olympia J. Snowe - are women. Rep. Michael H. Michaud, a Democrat, is the state’s lone male representative in Congress.

Her office decor also might be a first. Ms. Pingree advertises her second-place finish at a cow-milking contest last fall, in which she edged out Republican rival Charlie Summers, whom she also beat on Election Day.

“I’m very proud of it,” she said. “I have my ribbons in the office if anybody wants proof.”

For Mr. Warner, the most special moment of his first week came an hour or two after he took the oath of office, administered by Vice President Dick Cheney, on the Senate floor.

“The high point was having [former Sen.] John Warner introduce me at the reception that afternoon, particularly because of the incredible ovation he got,” he said of the Virginia Republican, who retired this month after 30 years. “There was a real kind of human moment where hundreds of people I think showed just really strongly their feeling for John Warner’s service.”

In 1996, Mr. Warner challenged his elder predecessor - the two are not related - in an unsuccessful Senate bid, but they since have developed a friendship.

John W. Warner introduced his successor with Sen. Jim Webb, a Democrat who now inherits the mantle of Virginia’s senior senator despite being a freshman just two years ago.

“It’s a transition going from ‘His Excellency of the Commonwealth of Virginia’ to being described by John Warner as ‘the junior senator,’” said Mr. Warner, imitating the prolonged emphasis that John Warner placed on the word “junior.”

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