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Sure, Oust A Longtime Speaker And Suddenly You’re All The Rage

A year ago, hardly anyone in this town had heard of George Nethercutt. Wednesday, the freshman congressman from Spokane was everywhere, being recognized at almost every turn.

He was on television, being interviewed live about the Contract with America by CNBC.

“It’s a good blueprint,” he said while arguing that new Republican members weren’t just moving in lockstep with their leaders. “There’s no blind faith. It’s just a matter of good judgment.”

He was on the radio, downplaying his individual victory during an interview by Watergate burglar turned radio talk jock G. Gordon Liddy. “All of the Republicans who won on Nov. 8 made history,” he said.

He was managing a debate on the floor of the House of Representatives while relatives watched from the gallery.

So well known is he that his passing was noted by Capitol tour guides as he crossed the Rotunda from one interview to the next.

“That gentleman there is George Nethercutt,” said one guide leading a gaggle of visitors. “He’s the person who beat Speaker Tom Foley.”

That historic victory made Nethercutt a much-sought interview and turned his day from hectic to frenetic.

Other new representatives, such as Rep. Helen Chenoweth of Idaho, had schedules that were merely crowded. Nethercutt’s was so crammed that he had to escape to the floor of the House to work on his first congressional speech, the introduction of a rule limiting the terms of committee chairmen.

There was no chance for such reflection in his office, which was packed with celebrating supporters who, unlike the experts in Washington, were not completely surprised by his victory.

One such backer was Emily Sue Pike, who began planning a trip to the capital early in the campaign.

“I was confident from the beginning,” said Pike, a North Central High School history and government teacher, who stuffed envelopes, developed phone lists and organized rallies for Nethercutt.

Pike has known Nethercutt all her life. Their mothers were college roommates. They were in the same kindergarten class, and she once lost to him in a race for grade school student body president.

Besides, the trip was a mini-sabbatical, she said. Her students - who just happen to be studying Congress as the new year starts - will be getting a first-hand account of the start of a historic Congress.

Nethercutt and other new members were limited to two guests in the House gallery. For Nethercutt, those tickets went to his wife, Mary Beth, and daughter, Meredith, while his son, Elliott, joined him on the House floor for the ceremony.

So Pike and some 50 other friends, relatives and supporters crowded into the new congressman’s new office across the street from the Capitol to watch the ceremony on C-Span.

They nibbled on crab, cheese and vegetables in the outer office rooms while Nethercutt staffers occasionally smacked an aged television to make the sound or picture return.

“It’s from Foley’s old office,” Jaime Moore, Nethercutt’s chief of staff, said. The balky television was one of several pieces of antiquated equipment the new congressman inherited from his predecessor.

There is also a Royal manual typewriter with keys that stick, which House records say was first checked out to Foley in the early 1960s and a 1970-era IBM Displaywriter a word processor so primitive the staff hesitates to call it a computer.

There are some disadvantages to defeating the sitting speaker, the staff has learned. Foley’s good office equipment, Moore said, apparently went to new Speaker Newt Gingrich’s office.

But shabby equipment didn’t put a damper on Wednesday’s celebration. The crowd cheered when Nethercutt cast his vote for Gingrich as speaker, and again when Minority Leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri said he was passing the gavel and 40 years of Democratic rule of the House to Republicans.

They paused briefly when the name Foley came up during a roll call vote, and then laughed when they realized it was Rep. Mark Foley, R-Florida.

And they looked for any sight of Nethercutt as the C-Span camera panned across the House floor.

In a sea of dark suits, Nethercutt wasn’t as easy to spot as his 10-year-old son, who sat attentively as speeches droned on.

Later, the fourth-grader described the experience as “cool” - and the view much better than the seats in the gallery where he later sat to watch debate on the Contract with America.

He said he wouldn’t mind attending his own swearing-in ceremony some time, but not for Congress. When reporters from around the country asked the young Nethercutt if he had political plans, he replied that he has his sights set on the mayor’s office in Spokane.

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