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Talk About Your Freaky Weeks on Capitol Hill : Politics: The voters have spoken, but a lot of important questions remain. Like who's going to change the fax paper, deliver fresh eggs and wash the senators' cars?

November 25, 1994|GERALDINE BAUM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — For decades this was a place where people proclaimed what was happening somewhere else.

They announced unemployment statistics--around the nation. They bemoaned the collapse of the aerospace industry--in the West. Their hearts went out to hurricane victims--in the South.

But last week something was actually happening here. Overnight, reality had pierced the Beltway.

For the first time since 1945, the voters handed Republicans control of both the House of Representatives and the Senate, giving the GOP domain over everything from the deficit to who delivers fresh eggs in the Rayburn Building.

Last week, nobody knew who would deliver those eggs or wash the senators' cars or run the Capitol elevators--or for that matter, chair the House Foreign Relations Committee.

Nobody knew anything. Except this: The Republicans were in charge and long-term Democrats who believed they were as permanent as the Lincoln Memorial had been banished.

This is not the first time in recent years that Washington has been upended. It happened in 1980 when Ronald Reagan came to town and Republicans took over the Senate, and as recently as 1992 when Bill Clinton moved into the White House, securing the Democrats' lock on government.

But never has the nation's capital felt quite like it felt last week.

Perhaps that was because the change was historic and this is a city that reveres history. Or, perhaps it was because so many people were losing jobs after having them forever.

It felt as if Washington had become Detroit and the Japanese had just bought all three auto makers.

"I feel like I've been practicing one religion all my life and overnight I've been converted," said an editorial writer.

Even the dress code was altered, if only temporarily.

For a long time the uniform of power has been bipartisan: gray or pin-stripe blue, three-piece or knee-length. Democrats and Republicans dressed the same as they purposefully marched the long marble tunnels en route to serve their country and the taxpayers.

But, again, last week was different.

Democrats were in flannel shirts and Topsiders with holes, wheeling Dumpsters of old newspaper clippings and audits through the hallways of the Longworth Building and hailing each other with comments such as: "Hey, you going to the Resumes R Us seminar?"

The Republicans were the giddy ones--in new gray and pin-stripe blue suits, hair combed, carrying resumes in their attache cases and sporting "Speaker Gingrich" stickers on their lapels.

The quake also rumbled in the offices of lobbyists and think tanks and K Street law firms, where fax machines spewed resumes incessantly.

Of course, if anyone is going to get work from all this, it will be the painters, spacklers, telephone re-routers, carpenters, curtain and carpet suppliers. Consider: Only a few months ago Democrat David Obey, the then-new chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, had the seal of the State of Wisconsin painted on his new office wall. Certainly, that will have to be replaced.

A lot of grand plans will have to be scuttled. Hoped-for judicial appointments will have to be tossed out the White House windows. Last week, at the departments of Justice and Health and Human Services, people seemed simply to be waiting--to have meetings to decide on agendas for conferences about what to do next.

All over this Washington, lives were changed. Here are some of the stories.

*

Pete Stockton has been booted off Capitol Hill five times in 25 years but never for very long. If he was fired on a Monday, excised from some congressman's staff for one reason or another, he usually had a new job with another Democrat by Friday.

For most of his career on the Hill, Stockton has been an investigator on Michigan Rep. John Dingell's powerhouse Energy and Commerce Committee.

Dingell's whistle-blowers went after corporate America and government too. By using subpoenas and disclosing secret memos, his cowboys snuffed big shots out of the boardroom and held them accountable to taxpayers. The ritual humiliation of executives at public hearings made Dingell look mighty before the cameras--and sometimes got taxpayers a better deal.

But Dingell's cowboys lost their lassos on Election Day.

The Republicans have vowed to cut all committee staffs, which means Dingell's staff is likely to be ground down from 130 to seven.

And, at the time of this interview, it had been more than a week since Stockton realized this ride was over and he still didn't have a new job.

"We were a bunch of wild men, but we did a heck of a job," said Stockton, quaffing a beer at the Tune Inn, one of the few non-Yuppie bars left on Capitol Hill.

Stockton would have liked another 10 or 15 years on the federal payroll to secure the best retirement perks. But it's just as well he got out now, he added, rather than stick around and watch "the political hacks, the lawyers and the Heritage Foundation guys extract their pound of flesh from the Democrats."

He'll put together something else, he said.

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