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Hernando's former sheriff sworn into U.S. House of Representatives as U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Spring Hill

BROOKSVILLE — As he stood in the hallowed U.S. House chamber on Wednesday, he was neither sheriff nor congressman.

His wife, Wendy, and three grown sons watched from the gallery as he raised a hand and swore to support and defend the Constitution of the United States, so help him God.

By 2:15 p.m., he had his new title: U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Spring Hill.

"I don't think you could ask for a prouder moment," Nugent, who served as Hernando County Sheriff from 2000 until last Friday, said in phone interview a few hours later.

It was a whirlwind day of pomp and procedure for Nugent and the other new House members.

Nugent joined his fellow Republicans — now in the majority in the House — in voting for Rep. John Boehner of Ohio to be the 61st Speaker. Nugent marveled at seeing his name and "yea" on the monitor that displays the votes.

He watched former House Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi — a target of Nugent's campaign rhetoric — give her farewell address, noting that the proudest title is "the simple dignity of the title of American." Pelosi said the Democrats, now in the minority in the House, would be a willing partner in working toward progress.

Nugent watched as Boehner wiped tears, took the gavel from Pelosi and urged members to "agree without being disagreeable." Boehner recalled his own first moments as a House member as he addressed Nugent and his fellow freshmen.

"Any of us can tell you, you won't forget this day," Boehner said.

Nugent said he was happy to hear the sentiments.

"In the last two years, there hasn't been open debate," he said. "That's what it's supposed to be all about."

Nugent later joined his fellow GOP members in supporting new budgeting rules that will make it easier to approve tax cuts and harder to approve new federal spending.

Nugent will serve on the influential Rules Committee, as well as committees on veterans affairs and homeland security.

During his campaign, Nugent said he was a free-thinker who did not always march in philosophical lockstep with then-Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite. Brown-Waite held the District 5 seat since 2002 and asked Nugent to run in her place when health issues prompted her to retire.

But while he has vowed to bring his own guiding principles to Washington, he is keeping on a few key members of Brown-Waite's former staff.

Nugent keeps much of Brown-Waite's staff

Chief of staff Justin Grabelle joined Brown-Waite's office in 2007 and served most of that time as her legislative director. Grabelle served as interim chief of staff during the last half of 2010 after Pete Meachum left.

Grabelle, who has a master's degree in public administration from James Madison University, came highly recommended by Meachum and has the necessary experience, Nugent said.

"He's a sharp kid, on the ball, so it was a good fit," Nugent said.

Katharine Troller, who joined Brown-Waite's staff in mid 2008 as a legislative aid, is Nugent's legislative director.

Harrison Lewis, Nugent's communications director, served as a legislative aide and then legislative director for Brown-Waite.

"Staff takes their lead from the members," Nugent said. "I'm looking for clear information about bills, but at the end of the day the decisions are always going to be mine, and they're going to follow my direction. They know the marching orders. It's all about serving my constituents."

To that end, Nugent said he made no changes to the staff back home in the district, including district director Shirley Anderson, who had been with Brown-Waite since 2003.

Nugent said no matter where he went in the sprawling district during the campaign, he heard high praise from constituents about the responsiveness of staffers and their ability to cut through the red tape of the bureaucracy.

All told, the staff numbers 14.

Nugent also kept the same district office on Spring Hill Drive. Nugent said he was able to renegotiate a lower price on the lease and avoided moving expenses by staying put.

Nugent drew a high number in the office lottery and was among the last few members to pick his corner of the Capitol. But he said he's happy.

"I got a window, and I can see my apartment," he said.

Today, Nugent gets to work. He has a Rules Committee meeting set for 10 a.m.

"Getting sworn in as a congressman was obviously an exciting moment for my family and me," Nugent said. "But when you think about all of the people struggling in Florida and the awesome work that lays ahead getting this country back on track, it is also a very sobering experience.

Tony Marrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or tmarrero@sptimes.com.

>>Fast facts

U.S. Rep. Nugent

U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Spring Hill, will remain in the district office occupied by his predecessor, Ginny Brown-Waite.

The office address is at 16224 Spring Hill Drive, Brooksville.

Telephone: (352) 799-8345

Toll free within the district: (866) 492-4835

Fax: (352) 799-8776

Constituents who already had active and unresolved casework when Brown-Waite was in office will be contacted in the coming weeks to start the process of reopening their cases.

Hernando's former sheriff sworn into U.S. House of Representatives as U.S. Rep. Rich Nugent, R-Spring Hill 01/05/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 5, 2011 8:29pm]
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