WASHINGTON – The congressional page program has been thrust into the public view since Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla., resigned after sexually explicit e-mails and online messaging conversations with an underage former male page were made public almost two weeks ago.
The lewd conversations have been published, the Federal Bureau of Investigation is in the midst of questioning former pages, and a hot line number has been set up to handle any concerns from pages and parents. All the while, the prestigious, 177-year-old program remains caught in the middle of an ugly situation.
“It gives the program a bad reputation,” said Bangor native Laura Aube, a former page. “It disappoints me that the only reason people know about the page program is because of this.”
The 17-year-old senior at Bangor High School served as a page this past summer sponsored by Sen. Olympia J. Snowe. Along with other pages in the House and Senate, Aube acted as a messenger, delivering copies of bills, amendments and other documents between offices.
“I can easily say it was one of the most rewarding things I have ever done and I hope people realize the importance of it,” she said in a telephone interview.
Germaine Scott, 16, of Presque Isle also served as a Senate page this summer and also was sponsored by Snowe. The high school junior had never heard of any inappropriate communication between members of Congress and pages.
“I never expected anything like this to happen,” she said. “It was a horrible incident.”
But Scott does not believe it will tarnish the program’s reputation.
“There was nothing I didn’t like about the program,” she said. Scott, who was able to sit in during a floor debate on the stem cell research bill and a defense bill, as well as listen to the Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, speak, said it was an all-around incredible experience.
Sen. Daniel Webster appointed the first Senate page in 1829. Becoming a page today involves a highly competitive application process that begins with being nominated by a member of Congress. A page, who must be at least 16 years old and a high school junior, serves for a semester of a school year or for a month in the summer.
While pages serve primarily as messengers, they also prepare the House and Senate chamber each day by setting out the day’s bills and filling water glasses, among other duties, and when Congress is in session they assist members on the floor.
Pages live in dorms a few blocks from the Capitol. They are expected to be in their respective offices 45 minutes before the House and Senate go into session, and do not leave until the chamber adjourns, which, depending on the time of year, can sometimes mean past midnight. Pages who serve during an academic semester also take classes before each work day begins.
“It is intense,” Aube said of the program. “You come back a different person than when you went in. You learn so much about responsibility and politics.”
Having access to places only senators and staff can go provided an unusual experience, she said. “Now, if there’s an article in the paper or a story on the news, I know who they’re talking about and what’s going on,” she added.
But the page program is now in the spotlight, intertwined with Foley’s scandalous communications with underage House pages.
Aube said the issue of Foley or other members being overly friendly was never raised, and that she didn’t know of anyone in a similar situation. “We had heard some gossip that in the 1980s there was a scandal involving a House page, but no one knew anything for sure,” she said, presumably referring to the 1983 scandal in which Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Gerry Studds and Illinois Republican Rep. Dan Crane were censured for having sex with pages.
Upon arrival, Aube said, the pages go through a sexual harassment seminar – a Powerpoint presentation that defines sexual harassment and advises what do to if such a situation arises. Aube said it was never an issue, and if anything, it just spawned jokes in the dorm rooms.
Aube said carrying a mahogany box holding the splintered Senate gavel used by John Adams in 1789 and the ivory gavel in use today into the chamber was a program highlight, along with an ice cream party hosted by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn.
“I had so much fun. I made great friends and learned so much,” Aube said. “Just because one bad thing happened, I don’t want that to tarnish the program.”