Former House Page
Thursday, October 5, 2006 2:00 PM
Bryce Chitwood , president of the 2002-2003 page class, was online Thursday, Oct. 5, at 2 p.m. ET to discuss his life and experiences as a page for the House of Representatives.
In an interview with washingtonpost.com, Chitwood said, "Life as a congressional page on Capitol Hill was fast-paced, exhilarating, monumental, memorable an by far the best experience of my life thus far. The opportunity to go to Washington at the age of 16 was an incredible opportunity. My experience as a congressional page has shaped the person I am and will greatly affect the person I will become.
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A transcript follows.
Gotha, Fla.: How are pages selected, and please describe their means of subsistence during there tenure (housing, food, adult supervision).
Bryce Chitwood: Pages are selected by members of Congress. There were different means now from when I was chosen
Washington, D.C.: How often do pages talk directly with most House members not on the Page Committee, and with members' staff?
Would other members or their staff have had an opportunity to witness Mark Foley's interaction with pages, or to hear any rumors that pages talked about among themselves?
Bryce Chitwood: Direct contact with a member of Congress is fairly rare for pages. Mr. Foley was always a nice guy who was willing to say hello to a page.
St. Petersburg, Fla.: What can voters do to save the Page Program in light of all the recent hysteria ?
Bryce Chitwood: Thank you for your question. I am a big fan of the program. My experience as a page changed my life. Voters can let their members of Congress know that the program is important and is an asset to Congress.
Anonymous: Mr. Chitwood, thank you for chatting with us today, and congratulations on your service as a House Page, something I know to be an honor and a tremendous opportunity. Can you tell us whether your page orientation included a general discussion of things to look out for in the big city, like sexual predators or suspiciously friendly adults in the workplace?
Bryce Chitwood: The page orientation was very thorough. The program is run by an excellent staff and our training was extensive. We were never warned about specific Congressmen. The page program worked very hard to keep the pages safe. This scandal is not the fault of the page program. Let's remember, this scandal is the result of an irresponsible, former member of Congress.
Boston, Mass.: Where you ever warned to be wary of Foley, and, if so, how and by whom was the warning given to you?
Bryce Chitwood: I was never warned by anyone about Mr. Foley at all.
Richmond, Va.: Give us an estimate of the ratio of boys to girls; was it representative of society at large?
Bryce Chitwood: The page program was very balanced in terms of gender. The program works hard to provide a nice balance.
Walnut Creek, Calif.: Mr. Chitwood: Thanks for having the courage to answer our questions today. I'd like to know if you think there is a plethora of unreported inappropriate email/IM contacts because the young men involved feared being blacklisted by the GOP in retaliation for such a revelation and was there a fear no one would believe them?
Bryce Chitwood: I don't believe so. Pages are unique individuals. Pages are generally very mature for their age. I believe if pages experienced contact with Mr. Foley, they would have had the courage to stand up and say so. Frankly, I am very surprised the story has taken this long to surface.
Irvine, Cal.: Good of you to attend. Setting the particulars of the Foley exchanges aside, were you and other pages given a clear idea of what to do and who in the program you could confide in if you felt someone's conduct was inappropriate? I'd have thought some steps would have been taken after the Lewinsky business to protect young people.
Bryce Chitwood: Yes. The page program does an excellent job of helping pages to feel at home. We were given an extensive list of people we could talk to if we ever felt uncomfortable. This included our school counselor, work supervisor, House Chaplain and others.
Tulsa, Okla.: Did congressman ever come to the page dorm?
Bryce Chitwood: Thank you Tulsa. It's nice to have a question from my home state. The only Congressman I ever saw in the page dorm was one who had a son/daughter in the program.
Bethesda, Md.: What do pages do?
Bryce Chitwood: Pages do a wide variety of tasks. They carry documents between the House and Senate, answer Congressmen's questions, run errands in the capitol for Congressmen, and many other tasks. The work of the page program is very diverse and fun!
Washington, D.C.: You say you're surprised that the story has taken so long to surface. Did you know about it before it broke? Was it common knowledge?
Bryce Chitwood: No. I had no idea about the exchanges. I was shocked to hear the news. Shocked and sickened. I liked Mr. Foley, thought he was a nice man. Therefore, this was very disheartening news.
Chicago, Ill.: What's the process to become a page and did you have to arrange the semester off from your high school or did the page program help make arrangements with your regular school?
Bryce Chitwood: Being selected as a page is a unique process. One must go through a member of Congress and be nominated and then be selected by the Speaker and others. There is a House Page School that makes a nice transition. The staff there are a great group of people who do a great job in helping pages to make the transition to Washington and then back home again.
Washington, D.C.: It sounds like the page program is still very much worthwhile and educational. It's sad that we have to protect our adolescents from individuals that the public has entrusted to represent them with dignity. I hope the focus stays on the representative himself and the cover-up rather than making big changes to the page program. Do you think any major changes should be made?
Bryce Chitwood: Thank you. I agree. This IS the Mark Foley scandal, not a page scandal. The Page Program does an outstanding job to protect the pages through enforcing strict curfews as well as a sign out system. There are predators all over the world. I feel no major changes should be made to the program. This is not the pages fault.
Oklahoma: Was your page experience the highlight of your life so far? Do you have political aspirations?
Bryce Chitwood: The page experience was the highlight of my life so far. I was born and raised on a small family farm in Oklahoma and the Page Program helped to broaden my view of the world. I was inspired by my experience as a page. I do hope to run for office one day. I have a passion for people and I want to make a difference, as cliche as that my sound. Maybe one day I'll be President of the US. We'll just have to wait and see.
Salem, Ore.: Why do you think the pages saved their IM exchanges with Rep. Foley?
Bryce Chitwood: This is an interesting question and I am sorry I do not have a good answer. I assume they thought since it was with a member of Congress it should be saved. But why were conversations in 2003 just revealed. I can't answer that question.
Arlington, Va.: Thanks for hosting this chat. Did the page orientation program have info. about sexual harassment? If yes, do you think this info. was aimed at young women and men equally? Did you feel there was any disparity between how males and females acted or were treated as pages? Thanks!
Bryce Chitwood: Yes. We did have training regarding sexual harassment. It was thorough and fair for both men and women. It's difficult to remember something that happened four years ago now. I apologize I cannot be more extensive, but nothing I remember from the training was unfairly directed toward one sex or another.
Washington, D.C.: The Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert just held a news conference and announced that they're naming a subcommittee to investigate the scandal. What is your reaction?
Bryce Chitwood: I feel this is a necessary step. I believe the investigation will show that there was a predator, Mark Foley roaming the hills of Congress, and will praise the Page Program for it's excellent handling of this situation and of an excellent program.
Crawfordsville, Ind.: Did being a page have an effect on your life in any way?
Bryce Chitwood: Thank you Crawfordsville. It's nice to have a question to my home away from home while in college. The Page Program greatly influenced my life. It gave me, as I mentioned earlier, a view of the world. I became highly motivated, after being a page, to go back to Washington and hopefully one day serve in elected office.
Bethesda, Md.: Who was your congressman/woman sponsor when you were a page?
Bryce Chitwood: Mr. Watkins of Oklahoma now a former Congressman.
Fairfax, Va.: Do you think all this fallout will discourage future page wannabes from the program?
Bryce Chitwood: No. If anything this scandal will increase page applications. Like I have said time and again, the program is very well run. It's been Washington's best kept secret for years, now the whole country knows about this exciting opportunity.
Long Beach, Calif.: How do you feel about the coverup? Hastert denying the claims of Foley's long time aid and three Republican lawmakers that he was notified of Foley's pedophilic contacts with pages?
Bryce Chitwood: I do not feel completely comfortable speaking to the cover-up. I feel there are still many facts that are unknown.
St. Paul, Minn.: As a formal congressional staffer, I too am concerned about the future of the page program. It is a wonderful learning experience for young people.
I am wondering about the response of this scandal from parents. Did your parents know about this communication, and what do your parents think today?
Bryce Chitwood: My parents have been following the news closely. They asked about my contact with Foley, I assured them there was none. They cam to visit a few times while I was a page and they, better than anyone, know the positive impact that the Page Program had on my life. Those of us that are concerned about the program must contact our Congressmen and Senators. We must let them know that this program is an asset for it's participants.
Arlington, Va.: Is it true that pages go to school in the Library of Congress? How is there time for school when Congress is in session?
Bryce Chitwood: Yes. Pages attend school in the Library of Congress on the top floor. The view from my classrooms was the capitol building. It was incredible. School began at 6:45 AM and lasted until one hour before Congress went into session or until 11 AM. The teachers and administration are an excellent group of people that have a passion for teaching in a unique environment.
Sulphur, Okla.: Just a comment. Bryce. I do hope that the page program continues, as I know it meant a lot to you and gave many young people a wonderful opportunity to learn about our government from the bottom up. I think it is a shame that an inconsiderate person in authority has taken advantage of his position. Parents of the pages that have been brought up with the proper morals should feel comforted that their pages will have the armor they need to battle any kind of unsolicited advances.
Bryce Chitwood: Thank you for your question from my hometown. There are predators in every corner of every globe and to make the argument that we should end a time honored program is ridiculous. The Page Program does an outstanding job of keeping pages safe.
Pennsylvania: Is it common for representatives to IM or e-mail with pages? When the IM exchanges in question started getting out of hand, why didn't the page terminate the conversation sooner, or do you think he was deliberately leading Foley on?
Bryce Chitwood: Personal conversation with a member is not common. And I am not sure about these pages leading Foley on. The Drudge Report at www.drudgereport.com just released some information saying this may have been a prank by pages. Check it out.
Baltimore, Md.: Mr. Chitwood, I have been following this discussion mainly because my daughter was a page in 1995 and it was a defining period in her life. My feeling is that while the program was extremely well run with excellent controls and support, the real value of the program was that it gave young people from diverse backgrounds opportunities to mature into responsible adults. It is a unique and singular experience for a sixteen-year-old that opens their eyes to the adult world of work and service. Plus -- it is an incredible memory!
Bryce Chitwood: Thank you for your comment. Everything you say about the Page Program is true.
Washington, D.C.: Hi, Bryce, I'm a former Senate page (1995) - I have to ask you, from one page to another, isn't it dismaying to see Congressmen calling for the entire page program to be shut down? It was the highlight of my high school experience as well, and I'd hate for future generations to be denied the experience because of the actions of a few.
Bryce Chitwood: I was saddened by Mr. LaHood's comments calling to send pages home. This program is so well run and should not end.
College Park, Md.: Do you have to be connected to get a page assignment in Washington? Is it for the privileged class? Are there minorities in the program?
Bryce Chitwood: No. There were pages from all walks of life including minorities. I was not particularly politically connected nor were my parents at the time. My class of 2002/2003 had a wide sampling of society.
Bethesda, Md. : Is the page program a semester or a whole year or in the summer? Do you continue with your high school curriculum during the page program?
Bryce Chitwood: The Page Program is actually all 3. However, I have learned that it is now being limited to semesters and summer. I served an entire school year. And yes, a regular high school education is continued at the House Page School.
New York, N.Y.: In an Op-ed in yesterday's N.Y. Times, a former page suggested that the page system be managed by a board comprised of former pages rather than members of Congress. Your opinion.
Bryce Chitwood: This is an interesting idea. Not to avoid your question, but I would have to think about it a little more. The program is ultimately the responsibility of Congress and so much of the work is done with Congress that it would be challenging for an outside board to manage the program.
Washington, D.C.: On the surface, the page tradition seems an anachronistic institution for rich kids to make connections. Why should the public support this? In an era of e-mail and BlackBerrys what purpose do pages serve?
Bryce Chitwood: I would love to hear my fellow pages answer your question. I am not wealthy now nor was I when I was a page. I was born and raised on a small farm in Oklahoma. Several of my friends were not wealthy. In fact, a good friend of mine from the program sent her minimal salary home to those that needed it more than he/she did. This friend was there for the experience. As far as political connections, this is not really a factor. The interaction with the elected officials is so minimal that establishing really powerful connections is difficult. The role of page has been replaced in some ways by modern technology, but Pages are still a viable part of Congress. We worked to handle the needs of Congress through answering phones, taking messages, running errands. Pages did the jobs no one else wanted to do.
Washington, D.C.: I'm not minimizing what Foley did but isn't it interesting that to date, no one has said he touched them? Isn't it possible it was a game? Why do you think he waited until they were out of the program to contact them? Also, how do you think he got their e-mails? Some have said he contacted them without their giving him their e-mail addresses.
Bryce Chitwood: I am not willing to comment on the first part of the question. I simply do not know the facts. As to how he got their emails, the pages are always making contact lists. He could have obtained a copy somehow or a page could have given him the information.
Washington, D.C.: Would you say that a page has more to fear from an elected official in Washington or from a congressional staffer? It seems to me that a congressional staffer who would have just as much access to the pages and who would have no ongoing sense of public scrutiny would be much more likely to predate youngsters who work as pages. Given the general freedom that pages have it would likewise seem impossible that any of them would not be aware of the potential dangers they face. For that matter, what 16-year-old is unaware of the adult world and its dangers?
Bryce Chitwood: Pages are responsible young adults. That's why they were selected for the program. Pages are aware of the dangers of the outside world. There are predators everywhere. Frankly, a child is just as likely to by preyed upon in a classroom at school as he/she may be in Congress. The Page Program is about providing a quality experience and for keeping pages safe, something they do a very nice job of.
Washington, D.C.: Do you think that congressional pages are vulnerable and naive individuals and are therefore more subject to be influenced by any of the power people of Capitol Hill when they arrive here and during their tenure? Is what supposedly happened in the Foley case a classic example of someone being intimidated by a superior and afraid not to respond to the attention?
Bryce Chitwood: Like I have said again and again. Pages are responsible, mature young adults. I understand how someone may think a page could become a victim, silenced by power, but pages are smart. They have the courage to speak up for themselves. Pages are the future leaders of our country. I am surprised it took these pages so long to step forward.
washingtonpost.com: This concludes our discussion with Bryce Chitwood. Thank you for joining us.
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