We have watched the culture of corruption lead to the arrest and resignation of a number of our lawmakers. Lobbyist bought access, congressmen accepted bribes and questionable campaign contributions. Defense contracts were sold to the highest bribe payer, with little concern if it endangered our troops. But for the most part this all involved adults and it was after all, adults who voted and elected these representatives. But the Foley scandal has endangered minor children. Adolescents placed in the care of our lawmakers; adolescents whose safety was sacrificed for political gain. If we are going to elected leaders who have no moral core, who place political power and gain ahead of the safety of children, then maybe Washington DC should be a zone free of minor children. After all we place ratings on all sorts of things to protect minors, we pass laws to forbid them from unsafe environments. At the very least the Page program should not continue unless we can guarantee the safety of every Page from predators that may roam the Halls of Congress.
The page program has a long history. Many young people have benefited greatly from experiencing the role of Congress first hand. Sixteen year olds come to Congress to live in the House Page Residence Hall, study at the House Page School, and work in Congress. They deliver correspondence, legislative materials, and small packages within the Congressional complex. They answer phones in the memberís cloakroom, take messages and deliver them to the floor. They prepare the House floor for sessions. They serve Congress for one or two semesters and are under the direction of the House Majority, House Minority Leadership, as well as the US House of Representative Page Board.
Its not that Pages havenít been subjected to unwanted attention before from members of Congress on both sides of the isle, but never before has the leadership choose to do nothing to protect the underage Pages. It now appears that Republican Congressman, Jim Kolbe, confronted Rep. Mark Foley over inappropriate contact with Pages six years ago. It appears that over the years many Republicans became aware of the problem. The Republicans have formed a circular firing squad, blaming everyone else for the problem not being handled. But has the blame travels up the ladder, two things become clear, Hastert, as House Majority Leader, is ultimately responsible for the failures of the Congress he presides over, despite his attempts to blame his staff, he is responsible for the actions of his staff as well. Second, not once did Republicans ever let Democrats in on the problem.
They saw this not as an issue of child safety, but as a political problem to be solved. So they never told the Democrats, not even the Democrat, Rep. Dale Kildee, on the Page board. Now they face a scandal where the blame falls solely on their shoulders. But that has stopped them from trying to blame Democrats. They are accusing Democrats of engineering the timing of the scandals exposure. While there is no evidence to support this accusation, even if it were true, when you choose to sweep your dirt under the rug, you donít get to complain about the timing of when it is discovered. The Democrats could not have engineered the timing of the scandal coming to light if the Republicans had dealt with the issue when they first learned of it.
They didnít share the problem with Democrats, they didnít check with the Pages to see if anyone else had gotten inappropriate emails, they didnít remove Mark Foley from his position as Co-Chairmen of the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children, they didnít make sure that he had no access to Pages. What they did do is accept Mark Foleyís Money, donations to the Republican Party and to Republican candidates. They encouraged him to run again for a seventh term when he considered leaving for a job in the private sector. They did not take any steps to discover how far Mark Foley indiscretions went, they didnít check to see if the Pages were safe. They never saw it as a moral or ethical issue, just a political liability. They didnít take the problem to the ethics board they took it to Tom Reynolds, the head of the National Republicans Congressional Committee; the person who manages the reelection of Republicans to the Congress. Hastert excused his non-responsiveness to the issue, due to the fact that it was presented in ďcontext of maybe a half a dozen or a dozen other thingsÖthat might have affected the campaigns.Ē
When did our leaders become so obsessed with hanging on to power that they fail to notice that children entrusted into there care were in danger? The Page program has a lot of value, not just for the young people who get to participate, but also for the Congress. But if we are to continue the program, then we, the American people must take responsibility for the safety of these children. We need to make sure that the people we elect to office are people who can be trusted around young people. We need to elect persons who will place the safety of children ahead of their own political gain. That they are the kind of person who whose ethical and moral compass will sound off alarm bells when red flags are raised, when questions are asked, when something just doesnít seem right. That they are the kind of person who will ask questions and investigate, not look the other way because they would rather not know. When we go to the polls in November, take responsibility for those young Pages and make sure the candidate you elect is one you would trust with the care of your own child. That is the only kind of person we want to trust with the care of our country.