After a four-day orientation for freshmen U.S. House members, Congressman-elect Bill Enyart, D-Belleville, said he was impressed by the bi-partisan spirit he's so far encountered.
"We're looking for solutions, not ideology," Enyart said. "And so I think you're going to see solutions coming now."
Part of the reason for that stems from the huge turnover that will take place in the House ranks because the Nov. 6 election that proved a resounding success for Democrats and such a bruising defeat for Republicans.
Fifty new Democrats, including Enyart, earned a ticket to Washington, D.C.
The Republican-led House has 234 GOP members, 198 Democrats and three vacant seats.
Enyart won the 12th U.S. House District seat, earning him the right to replace U.S. Rep. Jerry Costello, D-Belleville, who is retiring after 24 years in office.
Enyart handily won his election over GOP nominee Jason Plummer, a Fairview Heights developer, and Green Party nominee Paula Bradshaw, a Carbondale emergency room nurse.
Enyart already found a place to live within walking distance of the nation's capitol.
"It's a very small apartment," he said. "I don't plan on spending a whole lot of time here other than when we're in session."
The new House members are looking past party labels, said Enyart, 63, a Belleville lawyer and retired commander of the Illinois National Guard.
"With this freshman class you don't identify yourself as a Republican or Democrat," Enyart said. "You identify yourself by where you're from."
Enyart's orientation session began Tuesday and ended Friday evening. The days and nights in between were packed with training sessions on a long list of topics, including how to run a congressional office, provide constituent services and perform other logistical tasks.
"I'll bet I got 10 three-ring binders in my room," he said. "It's a huge amount of information. It really is. I can understand why it takes a couple terms to figure your way around."
Enyart takes the oath of office Jan. 3, officially joining a freshman class that is one of the most diverse in U.S. House history.
The new House member ranks include two Hindus, the first openly bisexual woman, 10 new Hispanics, five new Asians and four members born in the 1980s.
Enyart said his focus right now is getting assigned to House committees where he believes he can make a difference. He's submitted a "bid" letter seeking a seat on the House Armed Services Committee, from where he can protect Scott Air Force Base, the 12th House District seat's biggest employer.
Enyart also wants to serve on the House transportation and energy committees to support flood protection levees and the coal industry, respectively.
Enyart admitted he still finds it hard to believe that less than five months ago he had not entered the 12th House race. Just a few days ago, he found himself on the House floor "at the speaker's podium, in front of the American flag that was taken to the moon," he said. "It's simply incredible."
Contact reporter Mike Fitzgerald at email@example.com or 618-239-2533.