FLORENCE — South Carolina may have technically elected only one new congressman on Nov. 6, but freshman Republican Tom Rice doesn’t mind telling you the 7th Congressional District really has two representatives heading to Washington.
“I said it a lot out on the stump,” Rice said, looking at his wife, Wrenzie. “When you vote for us, you’re getting a team.”
From the time they first toured the district in November 2011, the Rices have rarely been apart. It’s something you’d probably expect from a couple whose been married 30 years.
But since defeating Democrat Gloria Bromell Tinubu a month ago, the unlikeliest of power couples’ feet have barely touched the ground.
“It’s seems like it’s been three months,” Wrenzie said, remembering Election Day. “So much has happened since then.”
Things happen fast when you get elected to Congress.
Less than a week after the cheers of the Rice victory party had died away, Tom and Wrenzie were in Washington, D.C., beginning the laundry list of items one hardly thinks about in the heat of a campaign.
From finding a place to live in the nation’s capital, hiring staff, attending hours of orientation and politicking for committee assignments, the couple hardly has time to soak in all that’s happened or even realize that they’re lives aren’t going to be the same.
“It is kind of surreal,” Tom said, who admits it still hasn’t really hit him that as quickly as November became December, December will soon yield to January and “Congressman-Elect Rice” becomes Congressman Rice.
“We were walking to a restaurant and I said, ‘Wrenzie, take this picture,’ ” Rice said, digging in his pocket and producing his phone. On it, a smiling Rice stands with the Capitol rotunda lit up against the night sky. “It was the Sunday night when we got there after the election, and I said, ‘I get to work here?’ ”
As exciting as moments like that are, they have been the rare exception over the past few weeks for team Rice.
“It’s a huge honor, it’s a humbling thing, but there’s a lot to do,” Tom said. “You have to get organized at the same time thinking about how you would work with these pressing problems that are facing the county.”
Rice has been keeping up with the developments of the ongoing “fiscal cliff” negotiations, meeting with members of the current congressional delegation and eagerly awaiting his chance to, he said, address those and other issues head-on.
To help him do that, Rice has hired Tyler Grassmyer as chief of staff. Grassmyer has been on the Hill for roughly five years and previously worked-as-chief of staff for Ohio Rep. Steve Austria, who is retiring.
Rice said Austria has already proved a valuable person to have on his side.
“He has helped me open a lot of doors that otherwise wouldn’t be open to me,” Rice said.
Three of those doors led to the Budget, Transportation and Infrastructure, and Small Business committees, where Rice will serve for the next two years.
“I think all three are very good, very good committees,” he said. “That could be very good for this area.”
Wrenzie was with Tom throughout it all, of course, politicking right next to her husband and Grassmyer.
“I hope I can help,” Wrenzie said.
Her husband certainly thinks she has, and doesn’t plan on her leaving his side anytime soon.
The couple was heading up to Harvard University for yet another orientation with other new congressmen and women, most of whom no longer travel with their spouses.
Not Tom. Not this congressional couple.
“I want her there,” he said.