Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008 | 2 a.m.
Congresswoman-elect Dina Titus arrived for dinner with lawmakers in a stately hall under the Capitol dome last week to find she had been assigned a seat worth noting: The chair between House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Mr. Pelosi at Table No. 1.
Beyond the Sun
Not a bad spot for a freshman in a class of 53 (and counting). New Democrats and Republicans gathered for a bipartisan breaking of bread during orientation week in Washington.
As Titus picked out carpeting (blue) and drapes (more blue) for her new office Friday, Republican Rep. Jon Porter, the congressman she defeated, was having staff dismantle his office.
Porter’s keyboards were packed on a dolly outside his second-floor office, waiting to be rolled to the moving truck downstairs. The classic rock band he played in with other Washington lawmakers, the Second Amendments, has essentially broken up.
For Nevada, it was the changing of an era.
Not since the Henderson-area congressional district was created in 2002 has it switched hands or parties.
Porter took office in the period just after 9/11, when voters nervous about the country’s security elected Republicans nationwide, expecting they would help President Bush protect the country on the eve of the Iraq war.
As the decade approaches an end, the country is in a much different mood. Titus takes her place when voters have rejected the war, the president and the party of both.
The Henderson area is more Democratic-leaning than ever before, mirroring a state that helped President-elect Barack Obama to office by historically wide margins. Voters tell pollsters they want the government activism Democrats are offering at a time when the nation is facing the greatest economic crisis since the Depression.
Titus said her orientation week in Washington leaves her greatly aware of the historical significance of her place.
“This whole notion of change is just kind of crackling in the air,” Titus said Friday, envisioning a different national agenda — “more progressive, more activist.”
The UNLV professor and former state Senate leader is still hunting for an apartment on the Hill but plans to be in Nevada often. She promises to hold “Congress on the Corner” events on Saturdays, setting up a card table outside grocery stores once a month in her district.
She’s had courtesy calls from lobbyists — homebuilding, real estate and restaurant lobbyists who supported her opponent — and wants to stay close to the residents who elected her.
“We’re going to hear both sides of the story,” she said. “There’s nothing about this office that’s going to be like Porter’s office — we’re going to have an open door.”
As Porter’s staff packed up the office on Friday afternoon, his chief of staff, Phil Speight, said the congressman was in meetings. Porter declined requests all week to talk to the Sun.
That was fitting, in a way. During his first terms in Washington, Porter was a modest presence who was difficult for the Sun to track, often because his office was not forthcoming about his actions and schedule.
As he emerged from a close reelection battle in 2006 and his district began turning Democratic, he warmed to the press and let slip the protective shield many lawmakers construct in hope of protecting an image that ends up being more caricature than reality.
Porter’s openness gave a fuller image of a congressman who in his final term was sometimes willing to put his neck out on tough issues. He explained his determination to continue supporting the war in Iraq even as it became increasingly unpopular as well as his belief that rescuing Wall Street with $700 billion was the right thing to do — even, as he said, if it cost him the election, which it might have done.
Porter’s chief of staff said the congressman is getting accustomed to his new status — out of public office for the first time in 25 years.
“It’s bittersweet,” Speight said. “Every day gets better.”
Titus and Porter never met while she was in Washington this week, though she did see Republican Rep. Dean Heller, who is moving offices. All three Nevadans, Titus, Heller and Rep. Shelley Berkley, will now be in the same building.
The day after the dinner under the Capitol dome, Titus made one of the first moves of her new position.
Titus invited all the newly-elected Democratic women for a meeting, where she floated an idea to have their class president be a co-presidency, rotating every six months as a way to spread the power. The women seem intrigued by her proposal and promised to keep in contact.
Titus is figuring out how she will maneuver in an arena where so many are jockeying for position. She has been elected a regional whip, as Berkley had been. Tops on her agenda for Nevada: Money to help homeowners facing foreclosure, investing in renewable energy, building public works infrastructure as a way to create jobs.
Bills will come later, after she takes office in January.
As she prepared to take a Friday evening flight to Nevada, she flashed a smile.
“It’s been a good week,” she said.