While his fellow incoming freshman were attending a private White House reception with President Bush Monday night, Rep.-elect Keith Ellison had what he considered a more important appointment to keep.
"I went to the AFL-CIO reception, because I wanted to meet and greet leaders of labor, and get to know them," Ellison, D-Minn., said in an interview during a break from freshman orientation Tuesday. "Those are the people who I came here to support."
"It wasn't even a close call," added Ellison, who is replacing the retiring Rep. Martin Sabo, a Democrat. "Maybe one day I'll get to meet the president. He's the president, and I respect him in his role as the president, but I have exceedingly sharp differences with him on a policy level."
Ellison is one of four new lawmakers who will represent Minnesota next year. He'll be the first black lawmaker from Minnesota, and the first Muslim to ever serve in Congress.
The House members are still awaiting their committee assignments, but the Senate Democratic leadership announced its assignments Tuesday. Sen.-elect Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., was named to Agriculture; Environment and Public Works; Commerce, Science and Transportation; and Joint Economic committees.
By snagging a spot on the Agriculture panel, Klobuchar ensures that the state will continue to have two senators on the committee. Currently, both Minnesota Republican Norm Coleman and Democrat Mark Dayton are on the committee. Klobuchar will replace Dayton, who is retiring.
"The Ag Committee is something I told the people of the state was the committee I wanted to join, because the farm bill is up in 2007," Klobuchar said in a telephone interview after the assignments were announced. "So that's critically important to Minnesota."
She said she was also pleased with her other committees. Klobuchar said the Commerce Committee will give her a chance to focus on jobs, and the Environment and Public Works Committee will give her a perch to address energy issues and global warming.
Klobuchar said she's been told she'll likely be 98th in Senate seniority, a ranking which affects everything from office space to committee assignments. That's two steps up from Dayton's dead last spot when he joined the Senate.
Ellison, meanwhile, said he's angling for spots on the Energy and Commerce; Education and the Workforce; and Judiciary committees.
"Middle class prosperity is a crucial issue to me -- that means tax justice, a livable minimum wage, the right to organize a labor union," he said.
The state's other incoming freshman Democratic House member, Tim Walz, had expressed a hope to get on the Agriculture and Education committees. But on Tuesday, he said he's been told he's got a shot at landing an assignment on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
"That would be just huge," he said. "I'm sending out feelers. They know we'll be a target next time. It would bring some credibility."
The state's only new Republican lawmaker, Rep.-elect Michele Bachmann, is also trying to land a spot on Transportation, as well as the Financial Services Committee.
Bachmann said it was an amazing experience attending the White House reception Monday night.
"My husband and I felt like we were from 'Green Acres,' walking into the big city," Bachmann said.
By Frederic J. Frommer, Associated Press Writer
(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)