Decades after his last term, new Eighth District representative feels better prepared this time.
WASHINGTON - The first time U.S. Rep. Rick Nolan was sworn in to Congress, the Vietnam People's Army was closing in on Saigon, Richard Nixon had recently resigned and Elton John's cover of the Beatles' "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" topped Billboard's pop charts.
That was in January 1975. The butterflies are still there.
"I'm more excited now than I was the first time," the 69-year-old Minnesota Democrat said on Thursday on his way to the House floor, where he joined 83 other new representatives taking the oath of office.
But unlike much of the freshman class of 2012, Nolan comes to Congress with some seniority, having served three terms between 1975 and 1981, when he retired from politics.
Fast forward to this week. He got the keys to a choice office on the fourth floor of the Rayburn House Office Building, edging out lawmakers who have been in Congress since 2008.
Where many congressional offices are staffed by people in their 20s and 30s, Nolan is surrounded by familiar faces who served with him in the 1970s, including legislative director Jim Swiderski and communications director Steve Johnson.
A reception for Nolan at the Capitol Hill townhouse of Minnesota lobbyist Dennis McGrann was populated by boldface names from the past, including former Minnesota U.S. Reps. Gerry Sikorski and Jim Oberstar.
Oberstar, who also started his term in 1975, lost the Eighth District seat in 2010 to Nolan's predecessor, Republican Chip Cravaack.
Nolan won the seat back for the DFL in November, and Oberstar was on hand on Thursday for good measure. "I'm going along to make sure he raises his hand," Oberstar joked. "He knows too much. He might decide this is crazy and back out."
Not to worry, Nolan said. He's already been appointed to the Transportation Committee, which Oberstar once chaired. And he's angling for a spot on the Agriculture Committee.
Relaxing with his old friend Rudi Appl, who got him a job as a waiter in a Capitol Hill bar in the 1960s, Nolan said he feels older, wiser and eager to start:
"I feel much better prepared than I was back then."
Kevin Diaz is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Washington Bureau.