WASHINGTON â€” When incoming Congressman James Lankford hosts an open house for friends and family Jan. 5, the visitors to his small Capitol Hill space will see an official office that will double as his sleeping quarters.
Lankford, the Oklahoma City Republican succeeding Rep. Mary Fallin next month, will join a growing number of lawmakers, including another Oklahoman, who sleep in their Capitol Hill offices during the periods Congress is meeting.
The main reason:
An efficiency apartment, in realistic commuting proximity to Capitol Hill, easily can cost more than $1,000 a month, and many are much more than that.
Like the other six members of Oklahoma's congressional delegation, Lankford only will be in Washington for congressional business while maintaining his home back in the state.
And, because Congress often is only in town for two or three days a week and sometimes has weeks-long stretches away, an apartment is seen by some lawmakers as a luxury they can't afford.
Lankford, a former Baptist youth camp director, already has stretched his family's finances with his yearlong campaign to win the congressional seat. Though he will start collecting his $174,000 congressional salary soon, he hasn't had a paycheck in a long time.
â€œI will sleep in my office until I can get back on my feet financially,â€ Lankford said.
â€œI do not have a set date when that will occur. We consumed all our savings during the campaign, and I want to prioritize our family finances for my wife and daughters. I plan to look for housing around D.C. when I can afford the rental costs.â€
Luck of the draw
Fallin's predecessor, former Rep. Ernest Istook, slept on a couch in his office for a period in the mid-1990s. At the time, he said he spent less than half the year in Washington but was paying more than $700 a month for an apartment.
According to a story in the Chicago Tribune in March, an estimated 30 to 40 of the 435 House members sleep in their offices. And a recent Wall Street Journal story said that at least 14 of the 94 incoming freshmen plan to sleep in their offices.
Members can shower in the gym in one of the three House office buildings. Lankford, who drew a high number in the lottery for office space, wound up on the top floor of the House building farthest from the gym. So he'll get some exercise on the way to the shower.
Rep. John Sullivan, R-Tulsa, has been sleeping in his office for the past four years. According to Sullivan's spokesman, it's because of the high rent.
Though most members who stay in their offices don't publicize it â€” making an actual count of the office sleepers tough to come by â€” Sullivan did a campaign ad in 2008 that showed him pumping up the air mattress he uses for his slumbers.
The ad was intended to show Sullivan's frugal side.
â€œI watch your pennies and I'll watch mine,â€ Sullivan said in the ad.