A New Job

On December 1, a mandatory three-day orientation begins for newly elected members of Minnesota’s House of Representatives. It all starts with a jovial chartered bus ride to a conference center outside of Monticello. Meanwhile, back in St. Paul, fourteen defeated, soon-to-be-former House members will be closing up their offices as part of a disorienting, but nonetheless mandatory, exit process. “It’s quite a shock, that’s for sure,” says Representative Tom Rukavina of Virginia, who, in the course of a two-decade House career, has seen literally hundreds of members lose and leave. “But if you lose, you lose, and you’ve got to be realistic about it.”

Practically speaking, Election Day is merely the beginning of the end for legislators suffering the humiliations of defeat. They still have to pack and check out. And so, at some point during the two months between Election Day and the convening of the new legislature, they will surrender their perks and privileges to the Office of the House Sergeant-At-Arms, which oversees everything from parking passes to office furniture. “Most of them are courteous about it,” says Shawn Peterson, the Chief Sergeant-At-Arms. “And for the most part they’re out by mid-December.” Before they leave, however, each departing member must also submit to an exit interview to ensure that all state property receives a proper accounting. “Everything is bar-coded at this point,” Peterson adds. “Because in the old days—say, twenty years ago, and I’m speaking anecdotally here—members may have left with some things that were not theirs.”

Nevertheless, sentimental members may keep their nameplates, including the one attached to the voting board in the House chamber, because “they’re not valuable to the state anymore.” They are also free to keep their House IDs, which some choose to do because they want “to use them for identification purposes.” Offices and papers are packed up in taxpayer-provided boxes. “They’re provided as a course of business,” Peterson explains, somewhat defensively. “It helps the efficiency of the legislature to move the old members out so that we can get the new ones in.” Defeated legislators under the impression that their boxes of official papers might interest future historians had better clear out some attic space. “We’ve found that the Historical Society doesn’t want much of that stuff,” Peterson says. “Maybe if a member went on to become governor or president, they’d want it in hindsight.”

Despite the humiliations of electoral defeat, most legislators eventually get around to exercising the one perk that they are allowed to maintain for life: floor privileges. “Members who have lost, it usually takes a little longer, but they still want to come back,” Peterson says. “Some even come back two or three times per session.” However, defeated members looking to cash in on that access should note that lobbyists, including former members who have joined their ranks, are prohibited from setting foot on the House floor.—Adam Minter