The day before students return to Duke in January, another class will be reassembling in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Senate will reconvene Jan. 7 at noon with a new Republican majority and 10 freshman senators, including Republican Senator-elect Elizabeth Dole representing North Carolina.
Dole spent last week participating in an orientation on Capitol Hill, where she and the other new members--seven other Republicans and two Democrats--learned about the Senate's seniority system, personal security, handling classified information and Senate plans for continuing operations in the event of a terrorist attack or other emergency.
Dole will replace fellow Republican Jesse Helms, who has served in the Senate for 30 years. Helms' departure has been both celebrated and lamented, but some expect the transition from Helms to Dole not to be substantially significant.
Ted Arrington, professor of political science at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, said the major difference between Dole and Helms is one of style, not substance.
"She's not an in-your-face politician, [she's] not a racist," he said. "She certainly isn't someone North Carolina will be ashamed of as has been the case with Helms."
But he added, "In terms of the way she votes, there wouldn't be a 5 percent difference [from Helms.]"
Arrington said Dole may work better than Helms with North Carolina's now-senior senator, Democrat John Edwards.
"They might be able to work out some agreements for judicial appointments," he said, citing an issue that was often a sticking point between Helms and Edwards. "Her style is to get along. Helms' style was to be Dr. No and to just draw a line in the sand and say, 'This is what I'm going to do.'"
Dole stressed during her campaign that she would improve North Carolina's economy, in part through a subsidy for tobacco farmers, and offered a partial privatization plan to save Social Security.
"Her first priority is doing everything that she can to get the economy moving again and help bring more jobs to North Carolina," Dole spokesperson Mary Brown Brewer said.
Dole also pledged never to vote to raise taxes and, during one debate, said she would spend her first day in office working on a constitutional amendment giving the president line-item veto authority.
Arrington said he doubts Dole will spend much time working to pass the line-item veto. "Republicans like to talk about quick fixes that aren't going to pass and don't work," he said.
But Brewer said the line-item veto is still a top priority for Dole, since it fits into her economic agenda. "[It's] part of overall fiscal responsibility--you've got to hold the line on spending," she said.
Arrington said he expects Congress to pass the tobacco buyout, but he remained doubtful that Dole could bring jobs back to rural North Carolina.
"North Carolina will do okay when the economy recovers," he said. "[Dole] is not going to bring jobs back to rural North Carolina and neither would [Democratic Senate candidate] Erskine Bowles. Urban North Carolina will continue to do quite well."
On most issues, Dole will probably support a mainstream Republican agenda, Arrington said.
How much power Dole has to effect change in North Carolina will depend on what committees she serves on. Dole has expressed interest in serving on the Senate Armed Services Committee, but the fact that she has no seniority in the Senate may limit her chances of obtaining coveted committee seats.
Dole is currently in the process of assembling her Washington staff. Frank Hill, her campaign policy adviser who served as chief of staff for 10 years to former Rep. Alex McMillan, R-N.C., will now become her chief of staff. Dole has named Salisbury mayor Margaret Kluttz as the state director of her U.S. Senate offices in North Carolina. Kluttz served as campaign chairwoman and political director during Dole's Senate campaign.
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