Mikulski bumps Senate freshman to obtain seat next to Sarbanes

Rank has its privileges as Bayh loses chance to sit at desk of his father

January 20, 1999|By David Folkenflik | David Folkenflik,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- For all that has changed in the Capitol in recent years, seniority still has its privileges. Last week, for example, Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski decided she wanted to switch seats with freshman Sen. Evan Bayh, so she could sit next to her Democratic colleague from Maryland, Paul S. Sarbanes.

And so, Mikulski pulled rank, unceremoniously dumping the new Indiana senator from the desk once held by his father.

Bayh, the son of former Sen. Birch Bayh, said yesterday that a Senate Democratic aide "informed me when I came to Washington that I was sitting in my father's seat. Now, I've been moved. I understand Senator Mikulski wanted to sit next to Senator Sarbanes. That's fine, but I can't tell you the history behind the [new] seat."

When the new Senate was sworn in two weeks ago, the turnover -- four new Democrats, four new Republicans -- created vacant desks for which senators could vie. (The 435 voting members of the House are not assigned to specific seats.)

Because of the rush to set up the Senate trial, Democratic leaders have not yet met to settle the weighty matter of exactly who would sit where.

Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada, the Senate Democratic whip, knows there's no question about his own new seat -- beside Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota -- where the just-retired whip, Wendell H. Ford of Kentucky, had sat for several years.

Mikulski, it appears, has also staked out a claim. As her party's secretary, Mikulski is the third-ranking Democratic senator, and she receives much deference.

"She is thrilled to be sitting next to Senator Sarbanes," said Mona Miller, Mikulski's spokeswoman. "They are uniting Maryland's delegation."

"This is just part of the process that happens every Congress," Miller said. "Much like offices, seats are given on a seniority basis, as is a long tradition in the Senate."

Desks are often selected for sentimental reasons, as well. New Hampshire's senior senator traditionally sits at the desk of Daniel Webster. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, the Massachusetts Democrat, stays toward the back, at the desk once held by his brother John.

Earlier this month, Sen. Blanche Lambert Lincoln of Arkansas, who replaced fellow Democrat Dale Bumpers, sat in his old seat. Soon, she, too, was asked to sit in another seat.

"The new members won't get a chance until the returning members choose their seats," Lincoln said. For now, she said, "I'm a floater."

Pub Date: 1/20/99

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