The Coattails of St. Jack
The next year and a half would be among the more eventful seasons in Thomas's life. He arrived in the nation's capital a lowly staffer for a little-known, first-term senator. Soon he would be hurtling down a fast track to power.
In the late summer of 1979, Thomas moved into Room 239 of the Russell Senate Office Building, sharing office space with four other staffers. Of all the congressional office buildings where he might have been quartered, none was more likely to inspire a reverence for the Senate and its traditions. Bounded by Constitution Avenue, Delaware Avenue, First Street and C Street N.E., which formed a trapezoid around it, the Russell building was the first Senate office building. Built at the turn of the twentieth century, it featured the Beaux Arts style of architecture popular in the day. Many Doric columns and pilasters gave an austere regularity to the exterior of bright white marble and limestone. Inside, equally lovely if more downtrodden, staircases of white marble led staffers between floors. Thomas could add little grandeur to the accommodations; he settled for decorating his office space with pictures of Corvettes.
The new tide he received was legislative assistant. Within Danforth's office, he was responsible for all matters involving energy, the environment, public works and the Department of the Interior. He advised Danforth on related legislation. These areas of public policy were not exactly of sizzling interest to most budding policy wonks, but the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries ( OPEC), a cartel of oilproducing countries mostly in the Middle East, helped to make things more interesting by raising oil prices during this time and driving the American economy into a deep recession.
"It was a great job," Thomas concluded years later. "There wasn't