Government

Finkenauer learning congressional ropes

Representative-elect undergoing orientation

State Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Dubuque, celebrates Nov. 6 at Hills Brewing Co. in Dubuque after she won the race to represent Iowa’s 1st District in the U.S. House. She will be sworn in Jan. 3. (Eileen Meslar/Telegraph-Herald)
State Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Dubuque, celebrates Nov. 6 at Hills Brewing Co. in Dubuque after she won the race to represent Iowa’s 1st District in the U.S. House. She will be sworn in Jan. 3. (Eileen Meslar/Telegraph-Herald)

Abby Finkenauer won’t start her new job for another month, but the Dubuque Democrat has spent much of her time since being elected to the U.S. House in Washington, D.C.

Finkenauer, 29, became one of the first two Iowa women ever elected to the House when she defeated two-term Republican Rep. Rod Blum in the Nov. 6 election.

She won’t be sworn in as the 1st District representative until Jan. 3, but she’s spent nearly three weeks with other incoming members of Congress in an orientation that addresses topics ranging from how to be a better advocate for constituents to hiring staff to ethics rules to finding which Washington neighborhoods are safest.

“You know, I’ve been busy,” Finkenauer said by phone last week from Washington where one out of five House members in 2019 will be a freshman. Much of the emphasis has been on “making sure we get our offices set up right, making sure that we have top-notch constituent services and getting our staff in place.”

After taking off Thanksgiving week, the incoming freshmen were back in Washington “doing everything we can to make sure that we have the best folks in place to deliver the best services for our folks in the 1st District,” she said.

The orientation has been a little more thorough and intense than the introduction Finkenauer received when elected in 2014 to the Iowa House, where she had no office and her staff was one clerk.

In addition to the “classroom” time, the orientation has been a great opportunity to meet her new colleagues, Finkenauer said.

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“There are a lot more members than in the Statehouse, so it’s been great getting to meet lots of new folks from all across the country and to learn how we are different, but also how some of our districts are similar,” she said.

Already, she said she’s found many of her freshman classmates are interested in the same issues that she highlighted in her campaign.

“Many of us care about fighting for trade schools and apprenticeship funding and infrastructure funding,” she said. “This is stuff I’m really excited to get to work on with Democrats and Republicans … to actually start moving forward on come January.”

Q: Brad Fitch of the nonprofit, non-partisan Congressional Management Foundation that puts on orientation has described the process freshman members of Congress go through as similar to starting a new business.

A: Well, you know, I wouldn’t say that exactly, but I’m really excited about the programs that the House has put on for new members to really walk folks through this and make sure we do this right. That’s been really helpful. We’re getting some great guidance from the House folks who have been there and helped people get their offices set up and running for many years.

Q: On average, House members get 16 staff members for their Washington and district offices. The Congressional Management Foundation says about 60 percent of a member’s budget is for personnel. Do you have your staff in place?

A: Hiring folks is one of them to make sure I have the best staff in place moving forward not only in the D.C. office, but in the district. There’s a process in place. I’ll hire a chief of staff and district folks in the next few months. I want to make sure we have dedicated folk that are getting the job done for anybody who walks into any office I have in the 1st District. That’s incredibly important to me and one of the focuses for the next few months as we get the offices set up.

Q: Your predecessor has offices in Cedar Rapids, Waterloo-Cedar Falls and Dubuque. Have you determined where your district offices will be

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A: For now, that’s been the framework. These are things I’ll be figuring out here in the next couple of months. I’m open to changing things, you know, keeping what works and changing what doesn’t. In December we will be focused a lot on making sure we get district stuff in place, at least get leases and those kinds of things, get all of the logistics worked out.

Q: So you’ll be ready to step into your new role when you’re sworn in Jan. 3?

A: We’ll hit the ground running here. We want to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to get something done for the folks in Iowa. That’s why I did this. I have been looking forward to working with folks in the Senate, folks in the House, regardless of party who care about getting something done for infrastructure, for trade schools and apprenticeship programs, for education.

• Comments: (319) 398-8375; james.lynch@thegazette.com

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