After getting sworn in as a new congressman last week, Washington state Republican Rep. Dan Newhouse on Tuesday took formal possession of a poster-sized painting of a newly hatched chick.
He will be expected to display it somewhere in his Capitol Hill office until he can hand it off to the state’s next freshman congressman.
It's a tradition among Washington state House members that dates back to 1972, when Republican Rep. Joel Pritchard received the oil painting as a gift from a friend who bought it at a charity auction.
Pritchard, who did not like the painting, found a way to get rid of it, presenting it to Democratic Rep. Norm Dicks when he joined Congress in 1977.
It has been exchanging hands ever since: Democrat Maria Cantwell got it in 1993, Republican Doc Hastings received it in 1995 and Republican Cathy McMorris Rodgers took possession in 2005.
Newhouse became the 26th recipient in a brief ceremony in his new digs on the sixth floor of the House Longworth Office Building on Tuesday morning.
One staffer referred to the event as the “chick handoff.”
Newhouse said the gift seemed appropriate.
“I can see the significance,” he said. “You know, I’m a freshman, just getting familiar with this new world. And so that is depicted quite well with this chick, which has a look in its eye of total confusion.”
Three former Democratic recipients showed up to offer their congratulations: Rep. Rick Larsen, who received the painting in 2001, and Reps. Denny Heck and Derek Kilmer, who shared joint possession during the last session of Congress.
“I’m accepting this on behalf of the delegation,” said Newhouse.
“Well, I don’t want it,” replied Larsen.
“It’s the property of everyone,” said Newhouse.
“No, Dan, it’s yours,” replied Heck.
Heck sought to put the day in perspective for Newhouse: “You’re only the second member in history from the Fourth District to have this painting.”
Newhouse replied that he now has a big incentive to get another newcomer elected to the state’s delegation as soon as possible.
“I’m not liking this,” said Heck.
Little is known about the origins of the painting. No one knows the artist or how much it cost, but Heck said estimates range anywhere from 50 cents to $50.
The back of the painting includes signatures of past recipients and “succession rules” that determine who gets the painting if there’s more than one freshman in any session of Congress.
If there are two freshmen, each must keep it for a year, with the member who received the highest vote percentage in the general election getting it first.
If there are three freshmen, each keeps it for eight months, with the rotation again decided by who got the highest percentage of votes.
Newhouse said he had not yet decided where to display the painting, but he received plenty of advice, with Heck suggesting it would look good on the empty wall behind his desk chair.
“It hung over my water cooler for a year,” said Kilmer.
Larsen said he opted to put it in a closet, joking that he relied on a focus group to determine the best location.
“You have to hang it in your office,” Larsen said. “That’s the rule. I had it for four years. It was the only use of that closet for four years.”
Heck said he decided to reward his hard-working chief of staff by insisting that it hang in his office, allowing him to see it every day for one full year.
“You’ve got to find your humor where you can in the nation’s capital,” Heck said. “This is as good a place as any.”