I remember Jeff Sessions as the polite senator from Alabama who thanked me when I held the door open for him. I was a Senate page from Tennessee, one of the 30 high school juniors who sit on the rostrum (the big round thing at the center of the floor) for each moment the Senate is in session. We bring the senators water, help them and their staff on the floor, set up lecterns, assist the cloakrooms, and deliver vote counts. It made no difference that my political beliefs are rather different from Sessions’s. Our brief interactions always displayed the mutual respect that exists between senators and pages.
But if Roy Moore is elected to fill Sessions’s former seat, that tradition of mutual respect will come to an end. Moore, the current GOP nominee for the seat, has been accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women, most of whom were teenagers at the time of the incidents. The youngest was 14. Moore’s potential election to Senate is not just a betrayal of those women, but a betrayal of something much more fundamental: the trust that young people have in our leaders.
Being a page means long hours, but it isn’t especially hard, nor is it necessary for the Senate to operate. It’s more about the learning opportunity for both pages and senators: The future generation learns from the present, and the present learns from the future. It’s an exchange of knowledge and perspective that has been going on since 1829, when Sen. Daniel Webster appointed the first page. (The Senate page program is completely separate from the House’s page program, which was linked to the resignation of Rep. Mark Foley in 2006 and shut down in 2011.)
While I was a page, I was able to see Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) react to Donald Trump’s 2016 victory. I heard Sen. Harry M. Reid’s retirement speech and carried Electoral College ballots to the joint session of Congress for an official tally to be conducted. We met Vice President Joe Biden and President Barack Obama; we shook hands with Vice President Pence and President Trump. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) told me how he missed being a mayor of Gillette, Wyo., because of how personal it was. Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) sat down on the rostrum with us and told us jokes. During a midnight vote, Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) spent 15 minutes telling us about his love for BMX biking and, a few days later, brought in his puppy, Tilly, for us to play with. Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) made a habit of talking to one of my best page friends, a Mexican American from Texas, in Spanish while he presided. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) not only recognized us at the corner store while we made late-night Ben and Jerry’s runs, but always said a genuine hello. I watched Hillary Clinton’s concession speech from the Republican cloakroom and sat next to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir during Trump’s inauguration.
Pages witness history, but in our own little way, we affect it, too. We serve as a physical metaphor for the future of America. Senators, while determining the fate of legislation that can alter our nation, see us sitting in front of them on the floor. Thirty of us stand in for millions. We are always there, looming over their votes and decisions. Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) told us that sometimes he goes into the back lobby and prays before voting. I like to think that when senators pray or think over the vote, they are reminded of the entire generation, represented by pages, that will inherit the decisions they make. They are reminded that the votes and legislation are not just about some partisan argument but about real children and their families.
Pages look up to the senators they serve. Imagine having health care explained to you in a live speech by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) or the national debt explained by Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.). Imagine the pride you would feel in your nation after seeing Biden taking the time to have a genuine conversation with the Senate cafeteria staff. Imagine how in awe you would be as a young girl as you watched newly elected Democratic Sens. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.) and Tammy Duckworth (Ill.) take the floor for the first time.
It’s difficult to imagine that a man accused of hitting on children at the mall will inspire the same feeling.
If Moore joins the Senate, each time he makes a speech, 30 pairs of eyes will be looking up at him from the rostrum — 30 16-year-olds who should be able to look up to him as a mentor, who should be guided by his actions. Whoever fills the seat from Alabama should be able to look at the pages and see hope and innocence. But Moore does not appear to see children that way. How can Moore be expected to make decisions with the interests of children at heart when he stands accused of betraying children? How can he learn from pages, and how can pages learn from him, when he is accused of viewing girls our age through such a twisted lens?
I am still a teenager, but I am not naive. The Senate has some unsavory aspects, and I witnessed those, too. Some senators voiced discontent to us pages about how fast leadership would push through bills, mostly with debate kept within one party. Dealmaking and exclusive partisan luncheons are routine. I saw the good and the bad. But, after spending more than 60 hours a week in the Senate for six months, I can say that the vast majority of senators are in office because, at the bottom of their hearts, they believe in a better future for America. They are passionate and patriotic, and they are capable of coming together. Consider the Sexual Assault Survivors’ Rights Act, which creates a bill of rights for victims and was a landmark piece of legislation that overhauled the way rape kits are processed; it passed unanimously in the House and the Senate. Most senators truly believe that what they are doing will benefit the country and the people they serve. I am a Democrat. My appointing senator, Lamar Alexander, is a Republican. I plan to vote for him when I reach legal voting age based on the incredible leadership and ethical code I witnessed while serving.
Roy Moore is not a person who believes in America. Moore is not someone whose passion will make America even remotely great again. No amount of legislative wins could ever justify erasing the trust and hope my generation should be able to have in the leaders who decide our futures. Moore is not worthy of the Senate I know.
Correction: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this piece misidentified the party affiliation of Sen. Cory Booker.