Porter packs up as Titus settles in Washington

WASHINGTON -- On Capitol Hill there is a certain circle of life. For every member of Congress who leaves in retirement or defeat, a new one arrives.

So it was last week, as Rep. Jon Porter surveyed the moving boxes stacked around his personal office.

Although the office was not inordinately messy, he declined to allow a photo to be taken.

"This is about what it looked like when I first moved in," Porter remarked as he made his way around the boxes.

In the reception area, the electric keyboards Porter played in his since-disbanded House rock band -- three of its members are leaving -- were packed away in two long and heavy cases, sitting on a dolly and waiting to be rolled away.

Beaten for re-election after three terms -- six years -- the Republican must vacate his Cannon Building second floor office by Dec. 1 to clear space for new inhabitants.

Completing the circle, one of the Capitol Hill newcomers is Dina Titus, who arrived last week for freshman orientation.

The Democrat and former Nevada state senator defeated Porter to represent Nevada's 3rd Congressional District.

Rep.-elect Titus, like 50 other incoming lawmakers (five races were still undecided at week's end), was assigned a sparse cubicle in a makeshift office warren in the basement of the Rayburn Building.

The cubicle came with a House-issue desk and chair, phone and computer, but she spent little time there.

Rather, Titus' first week was a mix of the dramatic and the mundane. She was in and out of a series of sessions where freshmen were schooled in House procedures, office management tips, security rules and ethics practices.

She scored in the freshman lottery for office space. She drew the third pick and elected her favored suite on the third floor of the Cannon Building. (Porter was on the second floor.) At week's end she was choosing a blue and gray color scheme for the drapery and carpets.

But also she played a small role in a big-time political fight among senior House Democrats.

Titus said she cast her secret ballot for Rep. Henry Waxman of California to become chairman of the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee. Capping an intense behind the scenes battle, Waxman dethroned Rep. John Dingell of Michigan who had wielded power on the committee for decades.

The Nevadan also was selected to become a regional whip, one of two from the West for a post that gives her entree to the House leadership organization.

Titus said her experience as a UNLV political science professor, as well as her role as former Democratic leader of the Nevada state Senate, could become assets in Congress -- to a point.

Her background "will help me see the big picture," Titus said. "But being in office you don't get the luxury of being a critic."

Most helpful advice she received during the week?

"They say if you are thinking you are going to come here and write the definitive piece of legislation, you are not," Titus said. "Stay grounded."

Accordingly Titus said she plans to return to the state each weekend, focus on her accessibility to constituents, and reach out to outlying sections of her district like Searchlight, Boulder City and Mesquite.

She said she was pondering monthly "Congress on Your Corner" events where she would set up folding tables outside grocery stores to greet passers-by.

In the weeks to come, House leaders will give Titus committee assignments. She requested Energy and Commerce, but only a few freshmen may win seats there.

Titus also expressed interest in the transportation committee and the veterans affairs committee, and the panel that has jurisdiction over education and labor issues.

With the immediate future is largely set for Titus -- she will be sworn into office the first week of January -- it is an open road for Porter.

He said he did not know yet about his next job, whether he might stay in Washington or move back to Nevada, or whether he is interested in running again for public office.

Despite his defeat he has been mentioned as a possible challenger to Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., in 2010.

"After Thanksgiving I will probably give it a little more thought," Porter said.

Looking back on his House career, Porter said he was pleased with a bill he passed to strengthen background checks on teachers and school professionals, with his work to help Henderson State College create an accelerated nursing program, and with the ongoing construction of a long-awaited veterans hospital in the valley.

After a rough campaign in which Titus and Porter accused each other of playing dirty, they still have not spoken, and they did not meet during the week both were in the Capitol complex.

Phil Speight, Porter's chief of staff, and Jim Spinello, a lobbyist and former assemblyman handling the Titus transition, are scheduled to meet in Henderson after Thanksgiving to discuss the handover of office equipment.

Porter said a meeting with Titus should happen at some point.

"It was a hard fought battle but I am also very realistic that we have a new congresswoman, and we need to make sure we do everything we can to help her," he said.

Contact Stephens Media Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephens media.com or 202-783-1760.