After the political battering he's taken in recent months, you might expect Doug Lamborn to be weary, if not wary.
But apart from a few hairs out of place on an apparently hectic Monday morning, the 5th Congressional District's freshman representative looks happy and talks openly.
"Am I dreaming?" he asks, sitting at a desk in the Colorado Springs office from which he waged a dogged campaign. "Pinch me."
Yet the Republican, a former state senator known for touting conservative values, is starting to awaken to the political realities of his job. He recently returned from freshman orientation in Washington, D.C., and is preparing for another flight this week.
He's not sure if he'll get a seat on the House Committee on Armed Services, where his retiring predecessor, Joel Hefley, served the district during most of his two decades in office. Politicians have long viewed the committee as critical to the district because of the five military installations in Colorado Springs.
Illinois Rep. Dennis Hastert had promised to support Lamborn's bid for a committee seat, but come January, Hastert no longer will be House speaker, and that appointment's anything but certain.
"If it's me in the majority, it would be almost a slam dunk," Lamborn says. "I'm going to give it my best shot."
He's summoned the expertise of Brian Binn, a military analyst for the Greater Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce, in hopes of making a strong case for his inclusion on the committee or at least on the House Committee on Veterans' Affairs.
Browns and Buffaloes
But he's not expecting, or asking for, the assistance of his predecessor. Hefley accused him of running a "sleazy" and "dishonest" primary campaign.
"I'm searching my heart to forgive him, because he did slander me unfairly," Lamborn says.
Hefley made the statements after Republican primary challengers Jeff Crank and Mayor Lionel Rivera were attacked in ads of advancing a "radical homosexual agenda."
Lamborn says Hefley's criticism was unfair because it wasn't his campaign, but the Christian Coalition, that was behind the ads. He says Hefley has "sour grapes" because Crank, a former aide of his and the candidate he endorsed, lost the primary.
"There was a personal element involved," Lamborn says. "His hand-picked successor was one of my opponents and was defeated."
Lamborn also has "serious questions" about Hefley's hard-fought, but so far unsuccessful, effort to create a protected wilderness area in Browns Canyon, along the Arkansas River west of Colorado Springs. Every member of the Colorado delegation is cosponsoring or strongly supports Hefley's legislation.
But Lamborn, a staunch Second Amendment supporter, echoes National Rifle Association concerns that hunters wouldn't be able to access game by vehicle if wilderness designation is awarded.
"I think that's a valid argument that should be listened to," Lamborn says.
Lamborn also breaks from Colorado voters on at least one ethics issue. In November, 65 percent of voters backed an amendment banning lobbyists from giving lawmakers gifts worth more than $50.
Last year, Lamborn accepted $341 worth of gifts, including a round of golf and University of Colorado football tickets.
Asked what he'd think of a House vote on a measure like Colorado's, he says a ban "might go too far."
"I would prefer full disclosure that would allow for a reasonable gift," he says, specifically voicing support for allowing private interests to pay for a representative's travel expenses to conferences that discuss policy.
He cites meetings of the American Legislative Exchange Council among examples. ALEC, which suggests legislation and policy to lawmakers, describes itself as a champion for "free markets, limited government, federalism and individual liberty." Critics call the organization a lobbying arm for corporate interests.
An open office
Supportive of tough border measures while in the state Legislature, Lamborn says he will take a similar tack in Congress. Had he been in the House, he would have supported a controversial bill to make illegal immigration a felony.
Lamborn sees that bill as being "off the table" today. But he praises recent security improvements approved for the U.S.-Mexico border, including a $30 billion, 700-mile fence.
"It's a good start," he says.
Known as an ardent tax cutter in the state Legislature, Lamborn draws the line at missile defense spending.
The roughly $90-billion-and-climbing plan seeks to create rockets capable of shooting down any nuclear warheads launched at the United States before they reach their targets.
"I'm a strong proponent of holding funding for both the research and deployment of missile defense," he says. "Missile technology is being exploited by rogue nations like North Korea and Iran. There's a danger of terrorists, or of a rogue state, using missile technology to try to threaten the U.S."
He's more vague about Fort Carson's proposal to expand Pion Canyon Maneuver Site, a roughly 235,000-acre Army training ground in southeast Colorado, by at least 418,000 acres.
"It's too early to take a hard and fast position."
Fears are high among cattle ranchers that the Army will use eminent domain public taking of private land to expand, decimating the region's economy. Lamborn has historically opposed eminent domain.
"The approach should always be willing sellers with a willing buyer," he says. "Beyond all that, if it was shown that [Fort Carson's] need for the extra land was well thought out and was vital to their mission of training the soldiers, the armored regiments and battalions, and protecting our national security, then I would want to explore the expansion of Pion Canyon."
To the diverse group of environmentalists, scientists, activists and others opposed to the expansion and concerned about other issues, Lamborn promises his office will be "very open."
"I would never ask anyone's party affiliation, or even if they're registered to vote," he promises. "We will help all the citizens of the 5th District, because our mission is to serve the public."