Behind every successful politician lurks an intern scandal waiting to be exposed. I interned for Constance A. Morella in 1987 at the age of 16, and I have some stories to tell.
No, Morella, who represented Maryland's 8th District in the House for 16 years before losing her seat on Tuesday, never tried to kiss me, and she flouted no law by allowing me to open her mail.
But by the norms of Capitol Hill, her relationships with her interns were scandalous. Morella attracted teenage supporters because of her willingness to break a cardinal political rule: She helped people who couldn't vote for her, whether that disenfranchisement was because they were too young to vote or because they lived outside the borders of her district. Nor did she reserve internships for the children of high-powered political supporters. I made my way into her office not by getting my parents to write her large checks, but by putting up a lot of yard signs for her when she first ran for Congress in 1986.
When Morella ran her first campaign on the need to improve education, restrict guns, end violence against girls and give D.C. residents voting representation in Congress, she spoke to me and my friends. I was 15 and living in Bethesda then, and I knew girls who had become pregnant after being raped. I'd heard the stories about children being killed in the crossfire of the District's drug wars.
Morella followed through on her campaign promises to young interns. She fought to get computers into schools and guns out of them -- and she didn't stop at the borders of her district or her nation.
Morella was the first woman to chair the Arms Control and Foreign Policy Caucus, and she wrote the $3.3 billion Violence Against Women Act. She represented the United States in Beijing at a U.N. conference on women's rights.
When she chaired a House subcommittee on government reform, Morella tried to bring democracy to the District's 572,059 people, who have no voting representatives in Congress. Wyoming, home to 493,782 people, has two senators and one representative. In 1999 D.C. teenagers died from homicide, suicide or accidents at a rate of 155 per 100,000 -- higher than in any state. Wyoming came the closest to the District, tied with New Mexico at 87 deaths per 100,000 teenagers.
Morella worked to give D.C. parents the same right that parents in Wyoming have to elect someone to Congress who would vote to keep guns away from their children. Wyoming voters historically have opposed gun control, but at least they've had that option.
Capitol Hill needs more of the Morella brand of scandal, but garden-variety political misdeeds thwarted her reelection. After the 2000 Census, the Democrat-controlled Maryland statehouse redrew Morella's largely Democratic district to more heavily favor the Democratic Party, even though the Supreme Court ruled in 1985 that it was unconstitutional for states to change district borders to give an advantage to any one political party.
The rest of the world pays attention to whether the United States follows its own laws. Recent articles on Maryland's 8th District race in papers published across the Atlantic -- the Economist, the Financial Times and the Guardian -- cite the illegal gerrymandering that pushed Morella off Capitol Hill. That's the biggest scandal of all.
-- Molly O'Meara Sheehan