Utah’s two incoming Congress members begin their transition

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Rep.-elect Blake Moore, in a July 10, 2020 photo. Amid freshman orientation in Washington, he is finding new friends in both parties and expresses optimism they help may overcome division in the country and Congress.

In the classic movie “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington,” a young Jimmy Stewart portrays a just-appointed U.S. senator who is exuberant as he arrives and exclaims, “Look at the Capitol dome — It’s all lighted up.”

Utah Rep.-elect Blake Moore, 40, who even looks a bit like the young Stewart, sometimes found himself acting like that during a week of “freshman orientation” for newly elected members of Congress. And fellow GOP Rep.-elect Burgess Owens also acknowledges he was in awe as he met fellow members

“I’m sitting by myself in the rotunda of the Capitol and having a phone call” with a reporter, Moore said. “It’s a pretty amazing experience. I’m so grateful to the voters for giving me a chance to do this, and I’m going to make them proud.”

As he finds himself working around the Capitol, “I’m constantly overwhelmed with the gravity of that,” Moore said. He’s a bit surprised at the continued “chills you get just walking around the Capitol.” And he can’t quite get over that “I can now walk throughout the building” beyond tourist-only areas. “It’s pretty awesome.”

Owens said he experienced feelings similar to when he won the 1980 Super Bowl with the Oakland Raiders after he had been on many losing teams. “I remember sitting in the locker room, looking around ... and thinking, ‘I cannot believe I’m sitting here with these guys.’ ”

He said now in 2020 in Congress, “I feel exactly the same way. ... This is a class that is here to make a difference. And I’m just thankful that I’m part of that. I’m thankful to Utahns for this opportunity.”

(Rick Bowmer | AP file photo) Rep.-elect Burgess Owens speaks with people during an Utah Republican election night party. He says he once couldn't believe he was on a Super Bowl champion team, and similarly is in awe of being around people he respects in Congress.

Moore said that as he’s rubbed shoulders with new members from both parties for a week, he’s increasingly hopeful that Congress can find ways to overcome deep divisions that have split the legislative branch and the country.

With Democrats projected to have a slim nine-vote margin next year, Moore said that may “provide some opportunities for people to find, ‘Hey, the people are telling us something. They want us to work here, and they want us to be productive and they want us to find solutions.’ ”

Moore, a business management consultant and former foreign service officer, said he’s used to working with people of different backgrounds from all points of the political spectrum — and is happy to find that new members of both parties are interested in listening to each other and seek to be productive.

“I think people get along a lot better out here than we give them credit for,” he said.

As an example, he said he struck up a nice relationship with Rep.-elect Kaiali’i Kahele, D-Hawaii, a former Air Force pilot and a liberal who supports such things as the “Green New Deal” and “Medicare for All.” It didn’t stop him and conservative Moore from talking and liking each other.

“He knows Hill Air Force Base. He has family in Utah. He’s an incredible individual,” Moore said.

Owens reports a different kind of experience. He said most of his meetings so far have been mostly with fellow Republicans, and he’s found many who want to talk about how to further their conservative goals.

“This is a very special [GOP] class in the sense that we were very, very strong in terms of our view of our nation, our pride in our country,” Owens said. “We stood against the strong leftist ideology of socialism, Marxism, which is really the conversation our country is having today.”

He added, “We also understand that these are the times that we really do need to stand very strong for what made our country the greatest in the history of mankind.”

Owens found an interesting way to make friends among those Republicans. Many have posted pictures of him letting them try on his Super Bowl ring. “My goal now is to use whatever means I can to develop relationships,” he said.

While much of orientation was spent in mundane seminars on such things as how to set up payroll and insurance, new members also have been busy working toward new committee assignments, hiring a staff, finding an office and figuring out where to live.

Moore and Owens say they have been deluged with hundreds of resumes from job seekers, and are working to hire staffs in Washington and Utah. They have met with other members of the Utah delegation to strategize about what committee assignments each should seek to ensure Utah has a voice in a variety of key areas.

Moore was interviewed just after he met with a House Republican leader. “I let him know how important Hill Air Force Base is, and how my background can be something that serves it, and what other interests I have on other types of committees.”

Rather than pushing too hard for a specific assignment like the Defense Committee, Moore said, “I’ve found just as long as you communicate what’s important for your district, what’s important from your background, and what are your interests. then something good will line up” — and said he has been trying to do that for months.

A big topic among incoming freshmen is where to live.

“I’m finding more members sleep on a cot [in their office] than I suspected,” something that former Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz made popular, said Moore. “I’m not sure I can do that.”

Instead, he’s looking for a small home or apartment where his wife and children — who plan to remain in Utah most of the time — can visit occasionally and spread out on sleeper sofas.

Owens said he is looking for a house quickly. “Everything is going at warp speed,” he added. “Last week at this time I was wondering if I would win and be here, and now I’m looking for a house.”

Like most freshmen, the pair have been scoping out potential new offices. A lottery will be held for them next month, where members are given only a few minutes to make a decision once it is their turn to choose. “We’ve been checking out the buildings,” Moore said, to help make that quick choice.

“Whether its committees or offices, we’ll go where assigned,” Moore said — adding he’ll love it along with that Capitol that keeps giving him chills.