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Inaugural ticket scramble gets more scrambled by congressional turnover

The Capitol Dome looms over a worker who is helping construct the stands for the inauguration of President Barack Obama to a second term. Construction began in September and the ceremony is scheduled for Jan. 21. (Cronkite News Service photo by Matthew Standerfer)

The Capitol Dome looms over a worker who is helping construct the stands for the inauguration of President Barack Obama to a second term. Construction began in September and the ceremony is scheduled for Jan. 21. (Cronkite News Service photo by Matthew Standerfer)

WASHINGTON — The website for the 57th Presidential Inauguration tells people who want tickets to contact their senator or representative in the 113th Congress.

That assumes you can find your representative and he has an office, someone to answer the phone or even an official website.

But those contacts can be elusive with newly elected lawmakers not sworn in until Jan. 3, and some current lawmakers leaving or changing seats.

“We’re kind of in a gray area when it comes to tickets until we establish our district office,” said Justin Unga, a spokesman for Rep.-elect Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix.

Sinema is one of three new members from Arizona, which also replaced a senator and gained a House seat, scrambling district boundaries in the process.

But that hasn’t stopped ticket requests from coming in. For months, congressional staffers have been fielding requests from those hoping to witness the Jan. 21 swearing-in on the West Front of the Capitol.

Current lawmakers are trying to point people in the right direction or putting together waiting lists.

An aide to Rep. Ed Pastor, D-Phoenix, said the office expects to be “well over-subscribed” when it comes to ticket requests. District Director Elisa de la Vara said the office got more than 1,500 requests four years ago, when it had about 200 tickets to hand out.

The Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies distributes tickets to congressional offices in early January. A committee official would not discuss specific allocations, saying only that congressional leaders have notified members of the allotments.

But one representative shared an email saying each member would get 177 standing tickets and 21 seated tickets. That gives Congress control of fewer than half of the 250,000 tickets the committee is expected to issue.

And the vast majority of those in attendance will be ticketless, standing on the National Mall in winter weather.

The threat of frostbite has not tempered the enthusiasm of some Arizonans.

Rachel Semmel, a spokeswoman for Rep. David Schweikert, R-Scottsdale, said last week “there is currently a waitlist, as some had requested tickets months before the election.”

Rep. Raul Grijalva’s office was averaging “one or two calls per day … regarding inauguration and tickets,” said Cristina Villa, a staff assistant to the Tucson Democrat.

Pastor’s office has automated the request process, meaning it no longer has to juggle ticket applications from walk-ins, phone calls and letters, de la Vara said.

“All ticket requests are through the web portal,” she said, adding that the new system also helps staff make sure applicants are requesting tickets from the appropriate district.

Even re-elected lawmakers may be representing new constituents because of redistricting. But at least they have offices. Arizona’s freshmen – Sinema, Democrat Ann Kirkpatrick and Republican Matt Salmon – are in leadership limbo until they are sworn in.

Residents in those districts could have even tougher luck getting tickets because it’s trickier to contact their new representative.

Web searches for the new members often point to campaign websites, where phones now go unanswered. Calls to the Salmon for Congress phone number went directly to voicemail. Kirkpatrick for Arizona features neither a phone number nor an address, but an aide said constituents can send a message through the site.

“We have certainly gotten some requests,” said Kirkpatrick spokeswoman Jennifer Johnson. “Sometimes people just reach out if they are constituents who know how to get in touch. Maybe they are people who are connected to the campaign.”

But voters are not tied to their representative as a sole ticket source, said D.B. Mitchell, an Arizona Democratic Party spokesman.

“You’re not locked in to getting tickets from one person,” Mitchell said last week. “If you’re a Democrat, you might have a better chance to get a ticket in a Republican district.”

Because senators are not constrained by districts, they may field calls from frazzled constituents from districts represented by freshmen.

But even that is not a sure thing. A spokesman for Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Mesa, who will be sworn in to the Senate seat of departing Sen. Jon Kyl in January, said in an e-mail that the staff is “still looking into this process.”

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