The halls of the U.S. Capitol are stately and ornate. Statues of important people (almost all men), majestic paintings and white marble everywhere. The Congressional office buildings for most senators and House members are a little less fancy, but still impressive. But for freshmen members, they're very much works in progress.
You can't blame them. They were just sworn in two weeks ago, and they're still learning their way around the maze of hallways, stairs and tunnels that connect the U.S. Capitol with their offices. And they're still moving in. In fact, the offices and walls of most the freshmen we visited this week were pretty bare.
Take Republican Doug LaMalfa, who represents the First Congressional District in far northern California. When we met him he was still getting over the flu he came down with during the 49ers game against Green Bay. His desk held a few random papers, a name tag reading "Congressman-elect," and a replica of the U.S. Capitol building made of white chocolate. A portion had been devoured leaving a huge hole near the dome. "Have some!" he kindly offered.
In his cabinet, the fourth-generation rice farmer had a bag of rice, a box of macaroni and cheese with his picture on it, and an inaugural "personalized gift" the freshmen apparently received.
The offices of other freshmen were similarly spare. There was a cabinet in the waiting room of Dr. Ami Bera, who defeated Republican Dan Lungren in a very close race. It contained what a staffer said were "local products from the district" -- peach salsa, canned olives, extra virgin olive oil and a bottle of petite syrah from Bogle Winery. Dr. Bera's office was comfortable but devoid of decoration, other than two vases of wilted flowers.
Compare that with the well-appointed operation of Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (bowls of Ghiaradelli chocolate and bottled water for visitors and tons of photos on the walls) and you see that seniority and rank definitely has its perks. And of course time to decorate and put stuff on the walls helps too.