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Posted at 03:20 PM ET, 08/09/2011

The end of the House Page Program: Reactions from former pages


President Obama is greeted by House pages, and others, on Capitol Hill prior to delivering his 2011 State of the Union speech. (Charles Dharapak/Associated Press)

The announcement Monday that the House Page Program is coming to an end after nearly 200 years came as somewhat stunning news, both on and off Capitol Hill.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced in a joint statement that they had decided to end the program, which costs $5 million a year, arguing that the advance of technology has eliminated the need for high school juniors to serve as messengers and errand-runners for lawmakers at the Capitol.

As the news made the rounds Monday and Tuesday, some recent graduates of the program as well as longtime lawmakers who got their start in Washington as pages have lamented the end of a tradition that is nearly as old as Congress itself.

Below are some of the reactions and stories we’ve received so far from former pages. If you’ve participated in the House Page Program and would like to share your thoughts, drop us an e-mail or leave a comment below.

Formerpage09:

“I am saddened by this news. The Page Program changed my life in the most profound ways. I was not a ‘privileged child’ ... my family had absolutely no political connections, and very few Pages in my term had any sort of connection with a Member of Congress. I applied several times unsuccessfully to serve in the program, and my chance finally came in the Spring of ‘09.”

“I will admit that the function of Pages has changed and in some cases [been] marginalized by technology. But the program, as I saw it, was an invaluable opportunity to show young people the true nature of Congress: that it is far more complex, and filled with far more honest people, than the media tends to portray. Yes there were crooks and slimeballs, but so many of the people I met in Congress, both Members and staff, were honest people who wanted to make a difference.”

“My term was scandal-free, and Pages were always treated with respect. Working on the House floor for a semester allowed me to better understand our government in a unique way, and from a perspective that is far more accurate and complex than most students will ever experience. It is a shame students will not have that same opportunity. While the program was expensive, it was completely unique and an amazing reward for students like me who spent three years working to get there. At a time when so many people feel disconnected with Congress, cutting a program that allows young people the most transparent view of government possible as a high school student is not a wise decision.”

Andrewwoodsmd:

“I, as well as two of my younger brothers, had the privilege to be a Page in the U.S. House of Representatives. I went to Washington in 1960, when Eisenhower was still in office, and left in 1963, before the Kennedy assassination. I was 13 years old when I arrived in Washington, below the age limit to be a Page, but the colorful, irrepressible and totally unique “Fishbait” Miller, who served three decades as the Doorkeeper of the House, gave me a special dispensation.”

“Coming from rural Alabama, it was a life-changing experience for me. We lived in rooming houses near the Capitol, and there were no gentrified areas of Capitol Hill at that time. All Pages came from upper middle class backgrounds and we lived in the ghetto. I arrived in Washington probably a conservative and left an extreme liberal, and my views have not changed over 50 years.”

“I worked on both sides of the aisle in different years, so I got to know Democrats as well as Republicans. It was a time when there was mutual respect between the two parties, even when hardball was in play. Sam Rayburn was no patsy, but he was respected. The minority leader, Gerald Ford, was genuinely liked by all.”

“Going to the Page School in the Library of Congress at 6:15 AM each weekday before reporting for work at 9:30 was a challenge for me, as I am a night owl. However, one of my teachers, Naomi Ulmer, was an inspiration to Pages over many decades, and after retiring, she played a major role in the naming of the Clara Barton Parkway, which is dear to my heart since I became a physician.”

“Many years later, I returned to the Capitol for a reunion of three graduating classes of Pages. Disappointingly, almost none had gone into politics, and only a few had stayed in Washington. Far and away, the question of the day then was, ‘What did you do about Vietnam?’ My reflection is that we left Washington still somewhat in awe, even having seen the powerful as merely human, but four years of college and an unpopular war proved to be a great disillusion and disabused many of the desire to return as congressman (there were no women Pages in my era, alas).”

“The bringing of 14-17 year olds to Washington, D.C. to be part of Congress was a wonderful experiment, and, with raising the age requirement to 16 and moving into dormitories, some of the experience has been diluted, I fear. Ending the Page program in the House will be a loss, for a limited few, but I am grateful to have been one that enjoyed the experience to the fullest.”

Eyvana Bengochea:

“On Friday August 5, 2011 I graduated from the House Page Program, Summer Class of 2011. The program, which has been an integral part of the House of Representatives for over 200 years provided me with an incredible experience that I will never forget. To my dismay, I just read that the program has been terminated, ironically by Speaker Boehner and minority leader Pelosi, two people who personally spoke on the House floor to congratulate the summer pages for the valuable service they provide. I am outraged and insulted by the cancellation of this program. ... The loss of this program is one that may seem trivial but will impact the nation negatively in more ways than one can imagine. Amidst the billions spent by our country on completely wasteful spending projects, it’s hard to imagine that the education and civic engagement of a few high school children a year is less important then giving more breaks to multi-billion dollar corporations in our country.”

Ken Archer:

“I would not be who I am without the House Page Program. It was never about delivering papers as cheaply as possibly. It was about instilling civic virtue in the next generation, which is why it survived a Depression, two World Wars and a Civil War.”

“The page program could have been unpaid, or they could have found a foundation to pay for it. There’s no indication that they looked into these options. Also, there is still a lot of document delivery between Capitol Hill offices. How much will it cost to pay for that? Pages received minimum wage. It just makes no sense to try to balance the budget for the next generation, not by raising the Social Security retirement age or taxing hedge fund income, but by taking away a program that benefits the next generation.”

Kevin O’Connor:

“I served as a summer House page in 2003 and I, too, find the program’s cancellation regrettable. It may not have been perfect, but I think the presence of young Americans on the House floor had a symbolic significance. Also, the program certainly had an egalitarian quality to it. Many of the pages in my cohort were able to take advantage of this opportunity precisely because it was a paying job,unlike most other summer programs in Washington. I’m sad to see it go and I hope private funding or a change of heart will lead to its restoration.”

James Barnes:

“I served as a page in the 104th Congress, and, like most of the people commenting above, found it to be a defining experience of my life. A decision by a few people in the leadership to end a centuries old tradition and save a few million dollars (less, my colleague points out, then the amount the U.S. government pays for iPods for government employees), without consulting other members, and much less taking a vote on the matter, is simply unacceptable.”

“We’re not standing for it, and have launched an online campaign at facebook.com/savehousepages to let our Members know how much of a mistake this is. The Page Program has changed thousands of lives, and prepared generations of civic leaders for a life in public service. This is a sad day for America.”

This post has been updated since it was first published.

By  |  03:20 PM ET, 08/09/2011

 
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