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House Freshmen Try Luck in Office Lottery

Numbers are prepared on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 19, 2010, as the incoming House of Representatives members drew in a lottery to pick their office space. AP

Members of the incoming freshman class of the House of Representatives finished their nearly one week orientation in Washington, DC today. They started their morning bright and early with a bus ride from their hotel to the Capitol for the freshman class picture.

Each member-to- be clearly took pains with their appearance for the photograph. Many of the women wore bright red or blue. Many of the men did the same for their tie choice. They smiled confidently for the official photographer and then for our TV cameras before randomly bursting into applause.

But these freshman had one more task before they could head home until January. Possibly the most important event of the week. Certainly the most vital to their personal comfort over the next two years.

The freshman office lottery.

On the surface, it looks like a lot of fun. Bill Weidemeyer, the Superintendent of House Office Buildings, carefully laid out each of the eighty-five chips that read "House Office Building" and then a number as the freshmen gathered in the hearing room on the third floor of the Rayburn House Office Building. He then dropped them all into a box.

"House Office Building 1" is the most coveted chip. That means you get first pick. "House Office Building 85" is the worst.

The fun quickly becomes serious business. Picking last means members most likely end up on the fifth floor of the Cannon House Office Building: The dreaded floor known as the "freshman dorm."

Many elevators in Cannon don't even go to the fifth floor. And many of the offices, nicknamed cages for the cage-like storage areas across the hall, are small and cramped.

At left, check out Friday's "Washington Unplugged," which includes a segment on the lottery.

Representative-elect Cedric Richmond (D-LA) explained another issue with some office spaces and that's the problem of the "split office."

"The split offices are offices you don't want," Richmond explained as he scoured floor plans of Longworth and Cannon and waited for the lottery to begin. "Because you'll actually have a public restroom in between the member's office and the staff so that's what we're trying to avoid."

Just after 9:00 A.M. it was show time. The Superintendent called the freshman's last names in alphabetical order. As their names were called, each one went to the front of the room and picked one of the eighty-five chips out of the box.

Representative-elect Jeff Denham (R-CA) winced as he picked number 82. The gospel singing farmer from Frog Jump, Tennessee's Stephen Fincher (R-TN), got high fives and hoots and hollers when he drew number 7.

But the biggest applause and oooos and ahhhhs came when Cory Gardner (R-CO) picked the lucky number one.

And it only took getting to the H's for Representative-elect Robert Hurt (R-VA) to draw the not-so-lucky 85. His fellow classmates felt so bad for their new colleague that they gave him an encouraging standing ovation.

Rep.-elect Tim Scott, R-S.C., right, is hugged by his mother Frances Scott, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Nov. 19, 2010, after she drew number 44, her son's high school football number, for her son as the incoming House of Representatives members drew in a lottery to pick their office space. AP

Rep. Tim Scott (R-SC) brought his mom up with him and let her pick for him. She drew number 44. Scott laughed and put his arm around his mom as they walked back to their seats.

Once all the members drew their numbers, it was go time. They had three hours to go see as many office spaces as they could in Longworth and Cannon.

No Rayburn, however. Every office that will be vacated in that spacious building closest underground to the Capitol, with its own tram, has already been snatched up by current Representatives vying for better Capitol real estate.

Representative-elect Bobby Schilling (R-IL), a pizza restaurant owner and tea party member, toured his potential office spaces with his wife Christie. Schilling drew number 46 and said the choice is especially important because until he finds a good roommate, his office will also be his sleeping quarters.

"It's nice to see somebody that's already staying in their place and where the mattress goes," Schilling said, examining Rep. Mike Quigley's (D-IL) office.

Schilling said the big choice was between windows or square footage, which ranges from 800 to over 1,400 square feet.

"I like square footage , but I also like windows so what we're seeing here is if you're going to get a lot of windows you get a little less square footage," he said.

Just after lunchtime, the freshmen made their way back to where it all began on the third floor of Rayburn to make their choice. Nearly all were hoping that no one with a higher number wanted the same office.

Lucky number one, aka Cory Gardner, picked 213 Cannon. When asked why, he said it's about the location.

"Easy to get to from the metro and enough room for staff to work with constituents," Gardner said about the perks of his 1,000 square foot office.

Cedric Richmond, who feared those fifth floor Cannon cramped offices, huddled as offices were chosen and an aide scratched off room numbers.

Not only did he avoid the cages, but Richmond managed to score a 958-square foot room in Cannon with a Capitol view.

Schilling actually chose one of those offices on the fifth floor of Cannon because he couldn't resist the view of the Capitol.

"It was more on the view I think is what we were looking at," Schilling said of his new office and short-term housing that's right across from one of the cage storage units.

So what's the first item of business when Schilling comes back in January and officially moves in?

"I'm going to hang up my big, fancy picture of Ronald Wilson Reagan right behind my desk," Schilling said, grinning with excitement as he and other members went to meet with architects about office layout before making their way home.

Jill Jackson is a CBS News Capitol Hill Producer. You can read more of her posts in Hotsheet here. You can also follow her on Twitter.
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