By JOHN HUGHES
WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep.-elect Rick Larsen has only been in the nation’s capital a few days, but he has already found something to reform: the bathrooms.
The former Snohomish County Council member has been meeting with legislative leaders, learning how to hire a staff, looking for a place to live and scoping out committees on which to serve during orientation week for new members of Congress.
His first real lesson on the complexity and bureaucracy of Congress came when he was wandering around the Capitol basement looking for a bathroom. An exasperated Larsen went to the Architect of the Capitol’s Office for help.
"I said, ‘You know, here it is folks, I’m a new member of Congress and I can’t find a bathroom — where is it?’ " Larsen said.
"They said, ‘Oh, it’s down the hall and to the right, but it’s not marked ‘Men’ … it’s HC-14,’ " Larsen continued. "It has to be marked with a bureaucratic, you know, number. But so it is, and maybe we can get that changed," he said with a laugh.
Larsen, 35, will be the only freshman from Washington and Oregon when the 107th Congress convenes in January. The Democrat beat Republican John Koster for the 2nd District seat vacated by Rep. Jack Metcalf, R-Wash.
On Thursday, Larsen sat in the last row of a cavernous National Transportation Safety Board room listening to engineers talk about improving pipeline safety through technology such as sonic effects, logic emulation and trainer simulators.
It was dry stuff, but Larsen wasn’t complaining. As the congressman who will represent Bellingham, where a 1999 pipeline accident left two boys and a young man dead, he said he wants to learn all he can about pipeline safety and will make passage of tough pipeline safety legislation one of his top priorities.
As he plodded through a series of nuts-and-bolts meetings this week on becoming a congressman, Larsen focused on trying to hire a chief of staff by the end of the month.
He also is seeking assignments on committees that he believes will most help his district: the Armed Services Committee and Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
With the House narrowly divided between Democrats and Republicans, Larsen said he will make a special effort to work with Republicans. He hopes to reduce the size of the federal debt and eliminate the so-called marriage tax penalty.
"There’s at least an effort to start already reaching out across the aisle within the freshman class, (to) say what kinds of things can we work on together to show that this institution of the House can get things done," he said.
He doesn’t know yet whether he will rent or buy a home in Washington, D.C., but his wife and 1-year-old and 4-year-old boys will live in the capital with him. Larsen said he has found some nice neighborhoods — and is not thrown by the D.C. traffic jams.
"The Puget Sound region traffic is like third worst, and this is first worst, so I don’t think there’s that much difference between No. 1 and No. 3," he said.
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