On his first day in the U.S. Senate (101st Congress), Conrad Burns (R-Montana) kept one promise: “I’ll never take a chew under the Capitol dome.” Burns, a longtime tobacco chewer, didn’t need the brass spittoons on the Senate floor as he joined the “world’s most exclusive club.”

The Senate, which has a Rockefeller and a Kennedy, now includes a Burns, 53, a former livestock auctioneer, farm-news broadcaster, traveling salesman and high school football referee. “I’ve done a lot of things to understand this country, and not just in a political sense,” Burns said. In fact, Burns’ political experience is two years on the Yellowstone County (Mont.) Commission.

But if he was awed, he didn’t show it. Jumping from the county budget to the federal budget is merely “a matter of bigger zeroes,” he said. Six, to be exact ($34 million vs. $1 trillion).

And his daughter, Keely, 17, may keep him in his place. As they drove from Billings, MT, to Washington, she read aloud a newspaper article about senators choosing their new desks.

It noted that Burns gets the last pick. “I thought that was really hilarious,” Keely said.

Later, at a modest reception, Mary Burns, 79, the former Democratic Party chairwoman of Daviess County, MO, said of her son, “I don’t hold it against him for becoming a Republican.” But she added, “That Democratic raising helped him a bit …but I told him, ‘Don’t ask me to vote for (George) Bush.'”

Burns didn’t. Even senators listen to their mothers.

— written by Bob Minzesheimer, published in USA Today