End of election no time for rest for 7th District congressman

sjones@thesunnews.comNovember 7, 2012 

— There was no real rest Wednesday for the newly-elected representative of South Carolina’s new 7th District.

By 11 a.m., Tom Rice had gotten about 50 calls on his cell phone, 55 emails, 40 text messages, and set up a slew of media interviews.

He has to be in the nation’s capital all next week for the first phase of his orientation into the U.S. Congress, he needs to find a place up there to live and he has to hire about 18 people to staff his new digs in the Rayburn House Office Building and the two offices he plans to open in the 7th District.

He said Tuesday night he would spend time with his family until about 11 o’clock Wednesday morning and then he would start being a congressman. In reality, though, that quality time with friends, family and his campaign staff happened at his home after the election results were known late Tuesday night.

The private celebration broke up about 2:30 a.m., he said, and he was up by 6 a.m. Wednesday.

Gloria Tinubu, Rice’s Democratic opponent in the congressional race, said she planned to sleep on Wednesday, the start of her effort to catch up on the rest she missed while campaigning.

After that, she said she plans to continue with renovations to her parents’ home in Georgetown County, which she said previously had brought her back to the Grand Strand from Atlanta in the first place.

Future political aspirations? Not on her radar for now, Tinubu said.

Rice said he’s pretty sure that Congress’ first work when next year’s session convenes in January will be to hammer out some sort of plan to keep the economy from falling over the so-called fiscal cliff. He said the task would have been easier if Mitt Romney had won the presidency, but he understands the fact of Obama’s reelection means there will have to be compromise to reach an agreement.

That’s fine, he said. He doesn’t mind working with people whose philosophies are different from his.

“I work for this country, but I am a representative of the people of this district,” he said.

He has no specific legislative goals for himself and expects that forging working alliances perhaps will be the most important thing he will need to tackle first.

“I think that in the end it all comes down to relationships,” Rice said of success in Congress.

Myrtle Beach Mayor John Rhodes is of the same mind.

Rhodes said he and Rice have not discussed it, but the two are nearly in lockstep about the basics of what is ahead.

Rhodes said he expects Rice will observe a lot when he first gets to D.C., learning who all the players are and how things work in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Both also caution that Rice is just one person out of hundreds and expecting a lot of him too soon will likely lead to disappointments.

“Let’s be patient,” Rhodes said. “Let’s give Tom an opportunity to work.”

The two men further share a belief that it is essential that bridges are built over the deep gulf that seems now to separate Republicans and Democrats in Congress. Rhodes talks of it as “tearing down the aisle” and Rice speaks of cutting through the rhetoric.

“This party situation has definitely gotten out of hand,” Rhodes said.

Rice said that in order for the barricades to come completely down, there needs to be a trust between those on both sides. That will come, he said, by working with those in other political parties to craft agreements that are good for the country.

“There’s always some give and take,” Rice said.

Rice said he believes his work as a congressman will be easier than that as County Council chairman in that he’ll have a staff to help him with constituent services and being up to speed on the many issues that will confront him.

“What you have to do is make sure you have a good quality staff to help you with that,” he said.

He has a pretty good idea who he wants as his chief of staff and has his eye on a person he wants to make his district manager. His offices in Myrtle Beach and Florence will be open eight hours a day, Monday through Friday, he said.

Rice said he and House Speaker John Boehner discussed Rice’s committee interest when the latter was in town last month, but no agreements were made. Rice said he’d like to be on the House Steering Committee and the Ways and Means Committee, although he knows the chances are slight that a freshman congressman would be assigned to Ways and Means.

He expects his time to be divided about 50-50 between Washington and the Pee Dee.

He has no idea where he’ll live in D.C., but he’s sure he won’t be sleeping in his office.

He and his wife Wrenzie will be looking.

Rice said she is one of his strengths, and the two look forward to the new challenges that are ahead. Wrenzie Rice said she will enjoy meeting all the new people and learning about their ideas, their likes and dislikes.

“It’ll be fun,” she said.

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.

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