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Tough issues await Huffman as he heads off to Congress

  • Democratic Congressman-elect Jared Huffman runs errands in his hometown of San Rafael. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat)

Democratic Rep. Jared Huffman takes his seat Thursday in the 113th Congress, facing big issues — budget cutbacks, the national debt limit and gun control — with a remarkably diverse freshman class and, he believes, a will to get things done.

“There's a real desire to try harder and work together,” Huffman said in a recent interview at his home in the hills of San Rafael.

A former environmental attorney who is coming off six years in the state Assembly, Huffman, 48, is joining a body widely demeaned by the public and noted for lack of accomplishment.

Congress got an 18 percent approval rating in the Gallup Poll two weeks ago, an improvement from the record-low 10 percent posted twice earlier this year but still far below the 33 percent average rating since 1974.

The exiting Congress, characterized by partisan gridlock, was poised to become the least productive on record, passing 219 bills as of Friday, compared with 383 bills approved by the previous Congress.

But Huffman, who is courtroom- and campaign-trail-smooth of speech and admits to a streak of optimism, believes that his 84-member freshman class represents a break from the older, dysfunctional order.

The freshmen of 2011 “wanted to burn down the House and grind the institution to a halt” — and they succeeded, said Huffman, who represents the new 2nd Congressional District, stretching 350 miles along Highway 101 from Sausalito to Crescent City.

Having met all the freshmen of 2013 at three orientation sessions, Huffman said the 48 new Democrats and 35 Republicans intend to do better. “The mantra is: Solve problems and get things done,” he said.

On gun control, a pressing issue in the wake of the Connecticut school shootings, Huffman said Congress has a chance to do “something sensible” after years of avoiding the issue.

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