Former pages from isles say D.C. program is safe
A group of former congressional pages praises the program's benefits
"AMAZING," "once-in-a-lifetime experience" and "safe" are some of the words former congressional pages from Hawaii describe the national program for teens.
So when talk about abolishing the program emerged after the Rep. Mark Foley scandal, former Hawaii page Angelie Angeles joined an online group aimed at lobbying for the page program and its good works.
"The scandal brought the problem into the spotlight, but nobody has anything to blame us for," said the 16-year-old Waipahu High School junior, who was a page sponsored by Rep. Neil Abercrombie this past summer.
Hundreds of other former pages have similar sentiments. On the networking Web site Facebook.com, Zack Hall, a student at the University of Texas, formed a "Save the Congressional Page Program" group, with more than 450 members.
Foley, R-Fla., resigned Sept. 29 after being confronted about lewd Internet conversations he had with a teenage page. The scandal snowballed after it was alleged Republican higher-ups knew of Foley's conduct beforehand. Part of the meltdown included talk of eliminating the page program altogether.
"Personally, I think it would be a terrible idea," said Stephanie Seki, a summer 2003 congressional page who was sponsored by Sen. Daniel Inouye. "The fact that this happened doesn't mean the program should be abolished."
Although murmurs have echoed in Capitol Hill about abolishing the program, the benefits of the program will likely overshadow what Sen. Daniel Akaka's spokeswoman called "an isolated case with Foley."
"The program exposes them a lot to the federal government process, and that's not easy to grasp," said Donalyn Dela Cruz of Akaka's D.C. office.
"They see beyond the superficial talk about the government, and they're here witnessing how federal policies are taking place," Dela Cruz said.
Pages run errands for Congress -- answering phones, delivering messages and fetching water -- all the while interacting with federal leaders and staying at secured dorms.
On the Facebook page group, Hall wrote out a template letter for former pages to write to their representative or senator, including reasons for keeping the program.
The letter argues the program provides an invaluable service by freeing up staff members from doing menial work, that it's a tradition rooted in the foundation of Congress, and that "it is incredibly unfair to blame the conduct of adults on youths."
Seki, a 20-year-old junior at Carnegie Mellon University, in Pittsburgh, Pa., said pages were told that senators were figures of authority and that they had to be addressed properly. There was a lot of informal talk, but Seki described it as a positive experience.
"They want to know about you, where you're from, and they want you to know about the process," Seki said. "It never crossed the line."
Both Seki and Angeles said they never heard about misconduct or lewd conversations between pages and senators, not even about Foley.
Angeles said other teens should not be discouraged in trying to be nominated for the page program, despite the scandal.
"They just need to be careful and self-conscious about who they're talking to," Angeles said. "Other than that, it's really safe up there. If it's safe enough for the president, I'm pretty sure it's safe enough for us."