House to provide better protection for pages

/ Source: The Associated Press

The House voted Friday to overhaul the board that supervises its congressional page program, seeking to close the book on a sordid e-mail and sex scandal that sullied its reputation and became a Campaign 2006 issue.

Specifically, lawmakers voted 416-0 to provide that both parties have equal say in overseeing the program, as old as the institution itself.

The purpose of the resolution the members approved Friday was to ensure that teen-age pages no longer are vulnerable to the kinds of electronic-message come-ons associated with now-resigned Rep. Mark Foley, R-Fla.

The bipartisan resolution resulted from the failure of the House Page Board's past Republican chairman, Illinois Republican John Shimkus, to notify other board members that Foley had sent questionable e-mails to a former page.

Pages are high school students who learn about Congress while running errands and attending a congressionally-run school

The new, eight-member board will include an equal number of lawmakers from each party and include a former page and the parent of a current or former page. The board also would have to meet regularly.

Foley resigned his seat last September after news accounts revealed how he became acquainted with male pages while they worked in Congress, and then sent them the improper messages after they left - including sexually explicit instant messages.

The sponsors of the resolution are Reps. Dale Kildee, D-Mich., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., two page board members who were never informed by Shimkus of Foley's questionable e-mails to a former page until the lawmaker resigned last Sept. 29.

Shimkus had learned of Foley's e-mails in November 2005. While he went with the House clerk to confront Foley, Shimkus never convened a page board meeting and Foley failed to stop his messages to male former pages.

"The board must not only be free of partisanship, but must function so all of the members have access" to allegations of misconduct, said Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald, D-Calif., chairman of the Committee on House Administration.

Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Mich., senior Republican on the committee, said the failure to convene the page board to deal with Foley "made the problem even worse."

Changes in the page board
The Kildee-Capito resolution expands the board membership to eight, including the former page and the parent. There also would be four House members - equally divided by party - as well as the clerk of the House and the sergeant-at-arms.

The previous board had five members: three lawmakers - two from the majority - plus the clerk and sergeant-at-arms.

"We look forward to operating the page program in an effective manner," Kildee said. The new board, he added, will ensure "the well-being of the young people who serve this House as pages."

Capito said the equal representation "takes it out of the political realm. There's no way there should be a partisan upper hand when talking about the governance of the page board."

She said she recalled only two or three meetings since joining the board in March 2005. Having a parent and former page gives the board "another set of eyes and ears" if a problem develops, she added.

The House ethics committee, in its report on the Foley case, said that former House chief clerk Jeff Trandahl warned Shimkus that Foley was a "ticking time bomb" who had been confronted repeatedly about his conduct.

The warning came in November 2005. The board chairman confronted Foley with Trandahl and told him to stop sending e-mails to a former Louisiana page.

When Foley resigned, Shimkus still had not convened the page board.