Politics & Government

N. Carolina newbie Kissell celebrates by rejecting pay raise

WASHINGTON — Rep. Larry Kissell wished there had been three of him Tuesday, one to do the official business of taking the oath of office, another to hang out with supporters who gathered to celebrate, and a third to just stand back and soak it all in.

The new congressman managed to pack it all in anyway. The freshman Democrat from Biscoe, in Montgomery County, held his late father’s Bible in his left hand, put his right hand up and swore to defend the Constitution on the floor of the House.

"It was obviously very moving in all regards to be part of this," the former civics teacher said afterward.

In a setting that is often mired by divisiveness and formality, the chambers of the U.S. House and Senate were alive with togetherness and laughter as the 111th Congress was officially seated.

Children were everywhere in the House, which allows kids under 14 on the floor for the swearing-in ceremony. Rep. Sue Myrick, a Republican from Charlotte, had grandchildren Olivia and Max at her side.

GOP Rep. Virginia Foxx of Banner Elk was accompanied by 9-year-old granddaughter, Rana, who jumped at the chance to have her picture taken with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the other congressional kids.

As Rep. Mel Watt, a Democrat from Charlotte, chatted with another lawmaker, a child she held in her arms slid a toy across Watt’s cheek and then touched his nose.

Rep. Patrick McHenry worked the room, leaning in to talk to Rep. Mike Pence, R-Ind., then high-fiving several children sitting in another row.

Though all the House members and a third of the Senate (those elected to a six-year term in November) were sworn in Tuesday, the main focus of attention was the newbies.

In Kissell’s office, 40 folks who rode up from North Carolina on a bus chartered by supporter Nancy Rorie of Monroe were among the supporters gathered at an open house.

"I would not have missed it," said Mary Ellen Phifer Kirton of Kannapolis, who volunteered on Kissell’s successful campaign in 2008 as well as the one in 2006, when he came just 330 votes shy of beating former Rep. Robin Hayes, a Concord Republican. "This is a great day for us."

Also on hand was 93-year-old Virene Kissell, who thought her son had lost his mind when he first decided to run for Congress, and found Tuesday "almost unbelievable."

His wife, Tina, and daughters Jenny and Aspen watched from the gallery as Kissell, hanging out with others from his freshman class, took the oath with more than 400 other members of the House.

Kissell's first act was to co-sign legislation turning back the pay increase Congress was slated to get this year. Even if it doesn’t pass, he said, he won't take the raise.

"It’s not the right message to send and it's not the right thing for me to do," Kissell said.

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