Washington, D.C. When Nancy Boyda casts her first vote later today, she will do it from the floor of the grandest stage in American politics.
"I'm respectful of it, but I'm not worried about getting eaten alive. I'm ... a lot of people use the word 'gutsy,'" said Boyda, congresswoman-elect for the 2nd District of Kansas.
The Topeka Democrat, who will be sworn in today, will represent the district that includes the western half of Lawrence.
For Boyda and her staff, Wednesday was about settling in and learning the ropes.
At 9:45 a.m., she picked up her keys and unlocked her Capitol Hill office on the seventh floor of the Longworth House Office Building.
Her staff assistant, William Wake, a Kansas State University graduate, answered the phone twice in the first minute.
Boyda also found a familiar face who dropped by.
"All moved in?" asked U.S. Rep. Dennis Moore, D-Lenexa. "No, but you are getting there."
Moore's district includes the eastern half of Lawrence. His office is on the same floor.
Boyda showed her Democratic colleague around the office that includes a small reception area, a room for her office and a larger room for her Washington staff, led by Chief of Staff Shanan Guinn, a campaign staffer for Gov. Kathleen Sebelius who also worked in the Clinton administration.
Just before 1 p.m., Boyda huddled around a table with staffers while eating a salad.
The first official staff meeting was a conference call with aides from her Topeka office.
Some staff members met each other for the first time at the meeting. The day included unpacking boxes, setting up computers and other logistical tasks for the new team.
Boyda also represents a change for constituents after she defeated five-term Congressman Jim Ryun, R-Lawrence, in November. Wednesday morning someone called the office, apparently unaware that Ryun had been unseated, Boyda said.
"Do whatever you need to do to not make that person feel awkward," Boyda instructed.
Boyda's staff meeting broke up after five minutes because she had to run to a caucus. She was giving instructions on her way out.
"I'm a fairly hands-on manager - without micromanaging," Boyda said.
First 100 hours
The House Democratic Caucus spent about an hour in a closed session talking about issues and votes planned in the coming days on raising the minimum wage, reinstating loans and grants for college funding and reforming lobbying rules, which incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has dubbed the action of the "first 100 hours."
Later Wednesday, Boyda called the session informative. She didn't speak during the meeting, but said she had in earlier sessions. During the caucus, some members asked if leadership would accept amendments before the votes, Boyda said.
The answer is no, she and her colleagues were told.
"These are what was campaigned on. So there's going to be a straight up-and-down vote," she said.
Anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan, whose son was killed in Iraq, led a group of protesters outside the caucus session in the Cannon House Office Building.
Sheehan said Congress needed to reward the grass-roots effort and address bringing home troops from Iraq.
Boyda said Sheehan's actions wouldn't overshadow House Democrats' early agenda but said Iraq would continue to be a focus for the new Congress.
"President Bush hasn't even really made a recommendation yet, and that's expected within the next week or so, and he is our commander in chief," she said. "So I think we have this very good window in which we can actually get some legislation accomplished that will make a difference in people's lives."
As an incoming member of the House Armed Services Committee, Boyda also said she hoped to soon visit Iraq to help her gauge the status of the war and security situation.
She said Bush needs to opt to work with Congress, but if he doesn't, more oversight could result. The war was a major issue during her campaign against Ryun.
She also made a statement about the recent execution of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.
"I think people are glad that that chapter is over, but I don't think it's going to have any long-term impact on what actually happens day to day in Iraq," Boyda said.
At 4:10 p.m. Wednesday, Boyda found herself on stage with several women members of Congress and Pelosi during an event at the Mellon Auditorium to honor former Texas Gov. Ann Richards.
After Pelosi's speech, the incoming speaker exited the stage and reached out to chat with Boyda. Pelosi informed Boyda that Sebelius was supposed to appear at that same event, but Sebelius said she had to stay in Kansas to help with the response to the blizzard in western Kansas.
"(Pelosi's) amazing. She tells me there are 60,000 people in Kansas who don't have electricity. She's got the numbers and she knows what's going on in Kansas," Boyda said.
At 5:20 p.m., Boyda tried to flag down a taxi to meet her husband, Steve, granddaughter Paige, 11, and her father, Sam Palmer. She is still looking for a Washington apartment but has a temporary place to stay.
Wednesday was another day to get familiar with Washington for Boyda and her staff. Several exchanges provided evidence, including her chief of staff Guinn making sure Boyda could get to the caucus meeting by herself.
"At this point, yes. I didn't get lost this morning," Boyda said, gaining a laugh from staffers.
Boyda summed up her first day, in which she saw her name on a plaque outside her new office next to the Great Seal of Kansas.
"I want to get started. I'm ready to get started," she said. "I just found today very inspiring."