The new Congress: A pretty diverse group

The exact makeup of the freshman class of the new Congress won’t be set for some days or weeks, depending on how complex a handful of recounts turn out to be.

But already it’s clear that the 110th Congress will keep the same number of doctors and have more musicians and fewer sports figures than the current array of lawmakers.

The House loses an independent, Rep. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. But the Senate gains two independent voices as Sanders moves up to succeed the retiring Jim Jeffords and Connecticut voters return Sen. Joe Lieberman to a fourth term, even though he lost in the Democratic primary. Both are expected to align with Democrats on leadership and organizational issues.

The retirement of Sen. Bill Frist, a heart surgeon, leaves only obstetrician Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma in the Senate, but the election of Wisconsin allergist Dr. Steve Kagen to the House keeps the overall number of physician-lawmakers at eight.

For sports figures, the new Congress will have to content itself with former NFL quarterback Heath Shuler, who despite being a first-round draft pick for Washington’s Redskins, spent four unexceptional years in the pros before settling in western North Carolina, where he defeated eight-term Republican Rep. Charles Taylor.

Former Pittsburgh Steelers star Lynn Swan made an unsuccessful run for governor in Pennsylvania as a Republican. And track great Jim Ryun, a one-time world record holder in the mile and six-term GOP House member from Kansas, lost his bid for another term.

That leaves Shuler and Kentucky Sen. Jim Bunning, the Hall of Fame pitcher, as the athletic standard bearers in Congress.

On the other hand, the pool of musical talent in the House has expanded considerably with the election of two professional musicians. Better known to baby boomers is New York Democrat John Hall, co-founder of the early ’70s group Orleans, which produced hits including “Still the One” and “Dance with Me,” who continues to write and record. He defeated six-term Republican Sue Kelly.

New Hampshire’s Paul Hodes has followed a different musical path. The state prosecutor and his wife, Peggo, founded a musical group called Peggosus that has recorded six children’s albums, several earning Parent’s Choice awards.

Maybe Hall or Hodes will be asked to join in the nuptials of the two new House members who are engaged to be married (but not to each other): Democrats Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Michele Giffords of Arizona.

In the political dynasty department, Republican Gus Bilirakis ran successfully to take over the Florida district that his father, Mike, has represented for 24 years. And in Maryland, Democrat John Sarbanes, the oldest son of retiring Sen. Paul Sarbanes, won election to the seat being vacated by Rep. Ben Cardin, D-Md., who moved up to the Senate in Tuesday’s election.

The new class also includes a retired Navy vice admiral, Joseph Sestak of Pennsylvania, who naval historians believe is the highest-ranking naval officer ever elected to a federal office. (A full admiral was appointed after World War II to fill the remaining few months of a Senate term). Sestak, who retired in 2005 and commanded a battle group during the Iraq war, defeated 10-term Republican Curt Weldon.

There will be three Murphys in Congress _ Chris Murphy of Connecticut and Tim and Pat Murphy of Pennsylvania _ none of whom are related.

There is also an expanded list of lawmakers using hyphenated names in the new Congress: Lincoln Diaz-Balart, R-Fla.; Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla.; Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Fla.; Lucille Roybal-Allard, D-Calif.; Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., and Juanita Millender-McDonald, D-Calif., who retains the title for the longest name in the House.

Adding to the diversity of the House is the first Muslim member, Keith Ellison, a Democrat who won an open seat in Minnesota, and two Buddhists, Democrats Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Hank Johnson of Georgia.

(Contact Lee Bowman at BowmanL(at) Distributed by Scripps Howard News Service,