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Thursday, November 17, 2016 10:01 pm

Freshly elected Banks gets to tour Washington

Brian Francisco | The Journal Gazette

U.S. Rep.-elect Jim Banks has spent this week acquainting himself with Capitol Hill – and with people who might work for him there.

Banks is in Washington, D.C., with about 60 other incoming federal lawmakers for freshman orientation. In addition to attending meetings and touring the Capitol grounds, Banks has been interviewing prospective members of his House staff.

The former state senator from Columbia City said Thursday he has talked with people who work for retiring Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., and Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, whom Banks will replace in January.

"I want to hire as many Hoosiers on my staff as I can, both in Washington and in the district. … I want to emphasize the strength of having Hoosiers on my team that know the district and know what Indiana is about," Banks, 37, said in a telephone interview.

He won election Nov. 8 with 70 percent of the vote in northeast Indiana’s 3rd Congressional District. Coats’ pending retirement had led to Stutzman’s unsuccessful bid for his Senate seat and Banks’ successful campaign for Stutzman’s seat.

Banks is one of two incoming freshmen members of the House from Indiana. Republican Rep.-elect Trey Hollingsworth of Jeffersonville will replace Rep. Todd Young, R-9th, who was elected to succeed Coats in the Senate.

Hoarse from a cold he caught on Election Day, Banks said Thursday that the 27-member GOP class of 2017 attended House Republican conference meetings this week and voted along with incumbents for party leadership nominees on Tuesday.

The newcomers heard Vice President-elect Mike Pence speak to the GOP majority Thursday, which Banks called his "highlight of the week." Banks said he and other members of the GOP delegation from Indiana met with Pence.

"It is exciting to have a relationship with the future vice president. I’m looking forward to continuing to work with him in a new capacity," Banks said about Indiana’s governor. Their terms at the Statehouse overlapped from January 2013 until Banks resigned from his General Assembly seat the day after his congressional election.

Banks said Pence spoke Thursday about some of the conservative goals that are embraced by congressional Republicans and were planks of Banks’ campaign: revamping the income tax code, curbing federal regulations and repealing and replacing the federal Affordable Care Act.

Banks said House leaders told the 2017 freshmen to "expect the calendar to be intense next year. We have a lot of work to do."

Another highlight for Banks was standing on the House floor for the first time.

"Just to recognize the significance and history of the floor of the House of Representatives, and the humbling and overwhelming sense that I’ll soon take a seat as a member of Congress there and vote on the important issues impacting our country, is truly a great honor," he said.

Banks, a commercial real estate broker, and the rest of the 2017 class will return to Capitol Hill for further orientation the week after Thanksgiving. Among their activities will be a lottery drawing for selecting their offices.

Banks’ wife, Amanda, joined him in Washington this week and attended briefings and programs for congressional spouses.

As for whether he, Amanda and their three young daughters might make a home in Washington, Jim Banks said: "We haven’t crossed that bridge yet. We fully intend to keep our residence in Columbia City. As far as my family joining me at some point, that’s a possibility."