Housewarming: Biggs, O’Halleran join freshmen in Capitol orientation

Newly elected Arizona Reps. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, and Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, were among 54 freshmen House members learning the ropes of Congress at orientation sessions this week. (Photo by Claire Caulfield/Cronkite News)

Incoming Rep. Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, said setting up a congressional office is like having 90 days to start a business, but said even that is “a whole different process here.” (Photo by Claire Caulfield/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Incoming Reps. Andy Biggs, R-Gilbert, and Tom O’Halleran, D-Sedona, said they’re excited to come to Washington and represent the people of Arizona – but first they have to learn how to do that, exactly.

The two Arizona congressmen-elect were among 54 freshmen House members here Monday for the first of several days of orientation, covering everything from hiring staff to rules of the House, from parking to getting an official group portrait.

“It’s like opening up a small business,” said O’Halleran of the process of setting up a congressional operation. “You have about a month and a half here to hire staff, to get an office, to understand the process.

“And I don’t care how much experience you have in the business community – which I have – or in the legislature – which I have,” he said. “This is a whole different process here.”

O’Halleran and Biggs, both former members of the Arizona Legislature, said they’ve already noticed one major difference between state government and the U.S. government – things here in Washington are bigger.

“Everything’s about scale,” O’Halleran said with a smile. “In the legislature in Arizona, you have 60 people (in the House) and 30 in the Senate, and here you have 435 and 100.”

Biggs said that on his first day in the city, he noticed a larger media presence. He echoed O’Halleran, noting “the sheer number of legislators is pretty big” but added that he is ready to see whether or not Congress works at a “faster pace” than the Legislature.

Biggs was president of the state Senate before winning the 5th District seat vacated by retiring Rep. Matt Salmon, R-Mesa. He survived a razor-thin primary victory, beating fellow Republican Christine Jones by 27 votes, before securing a comfortable win over Democrat Talia Fuentes and a Libertarian write-in candidate in the general election.

-Cronkite News video by Claire Caulfield

O’Halleran beat out Pinal County Sheriff Paul Babeu and Green Party candidate Ray Parrish, winning 51.5 percent of the vote to take the 1st District seat vacated by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, D-Flagstaff, who mounted an unsuccessful bid for Republican Sen. John McCain’s seat. The district is one of the largest in the nation, covering most of the northern eastern parts of the state.

O’Halleran seemed appreciative of the opportunity to get oriented.

“Orientation is very important for all of us I think, to be able to function appropriately in the legislature,” he said.

The biennial ritual is hectic, with congressmen and women being ushered around the city and trying to digest a handful of different operations manuals. But the mood on the Hill was far from tense Monday.

“It’s going to be a different environment, but a friendly environment I hope,” O’Halleran said. “It’s about getting the job done and meeting people and finding a way to work together.”

Biggs agreed that the mood has been bipartisan and friendly – so far.

“I feel pretty great,” he said Monday. “Everyone has been gracious and cordial, but I haven’t cast any votes yet.”