WASHINGTON — The line to get into Glenn Thompson's new congressional office early Tuesday curled out of 124 Cannon and down the marbled hallway as dozens of Fifth District supporters queued up to congratulate their new congressman.
"His grandfather and I are first cousins," said Bill Holt of Howard as he hung up his coat. He was one of more than 50 people who traveled down on a bus for the day. "I've known him since birth. He'll be a great congressman." Among the visitors were Thompson?s high school history teacher and his wife Penny's high school cheerleading coach. At one point during the day, a clutch of alumni from Thompson's high school, several generations deep, posed for a picture and then broke into singing the alma mater.
Thompson was sworn in along with 434 House colleagues on Tuesday, one of 54 new members of the 111th Congress. He clutched a new leadership bible -- a gift from a friend -- and raised his right hand as he swore to defend the Constitution from all enemies. Back in his office, some 75 supporters watched on television.
"Oh, it was humbling," Thompson said later. "What an appropriate day. They're representative of the people I represent." Finally, after a year of campaigning that saw Thompson emerge from a crowded Republican primary and then defeat his Democratic challenger, it was time for work. Thompson's staff didn't receive the keys to the new office until 9 a.m. Monday. He worked past dark hoisting boxes and hanging pictures.
"I'm excited, obviously a little nervous, but everything we've been doing just feels right," Thompson said Tuesday in an interview in his office.
Supporters bustled around him. Thompson's brother and sister-in-law were seated on the couch. His wife searched for his Constitution book so Thompson could put it on the new desk.
"It's in my briefcase," her husband said.
There was an air of optimism in Thompson's office and all over Capitol Hill Tuesday, as new members settled into new offices, and the young children and grandchildren of members wandered the halls in their church-going best. A bus rolled out of Thompson's hometown of Howard about 5:30 a.m. Tuesday, arriving in Washington by about 11 a.m.
"It's just an honor to have someone come from a small town and represent you," said Connie Beck of Howard, who rode up with her husband, Lester. Neither was surprised to see Thompson in Congress.
"He's always been involved," Connie Beck said. "He always did a lot of volunteer work." Joyce Haas, a State College resident and vice chairwoman of the state Republican Party, said Thompson represents the values of both the Fifth District and Centre County.
"We're just so proud that GT's here," said Haas, using Thompson's nickname.
Along with hometown visitors, lobbyists wandered the hallways, eager to meet new faces and press their issues. Mingling near the sandwiches in Thompson's office were lobbyists for Boeing and an underground mining company from the Fifth District.
"It's like back-to-school day," said Skip Stephens, who represents Joy Mining Machinery in Franklin. "It's sort of fun." The company's political action committee supported Thompson in his campaign, Stephens said. "We were big supporters of (former Rep.) John Peterson. Hopefully we'll have a good relationship with Congressman Thompson." With Peterson retiring after six terms, the Fifth District loses its representation on the powerful Appropriations Committee. From that perch, Peterson steered millions of dollars to Penn State University, to area companies and to infrastructure projects in small towns throughout the district.
Thompson doesn't yet know on which committees he'll serve, but he put in for Ways and Means (a long shot for a freshman), agriculture, armed services and transportation. He, too, will have the chance to ask for earmarks during the spending process, but it?s unlikely Thompson will have the clout to bring as much money back to the district as Peterson.
Joyce Haas of State College, vice chairwoman of the state Republican Party, said she doubts Thompson can be influence too much by the pressures of lobbying firms or fellow members of Congress.
"He's one of us. He's down to earth, common, honest," Haas said. "Even if nobody's looking, he'll do the right thing." Still, Thompson said Tuesday he wants to jump into issues, including the economic stimulus package now being discussed.
"I think there?s going to be a lot of things coming at us right away," he said. In his first few months, Thompson said he wants to set up a constituent service presence throughout the district's 17 counties and, in Washington, introduce himself to leaders among both Democrats and Republicans in the House.
"People are looking to me to work on their behalf," Thompson said. "As of today, I've got approximately 660,000 bosses. That's a lot of people to be accountable to."