by Karl Kurtz
The U.S. House of Representatives has operated a page program for 186 years--but no longer. From the Washington Post:
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced this month that they had agreed to end the program because it had outlived its usefulness and the cost could no longer be justified....
Pelosi and Boehner said in their announcement...that it was cost, not controversy, that impelled them to end the $5 million-a-year program.
The article has numerous interesting quotes from members of Congress like Roger Whicker (Miss.) and Jim Cooper (Tenn.) who got their start in politics as congressional pages. The ideal reason for having a page program was expressed by another former page:
Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), who worked as a page from 1936 to 1941 while his father served in the House, argued that there is “enormous value” in the opportunity for pages to learn firsthand how Congress works.”
“I saw the Congress doing all kinds of important business and it gave me the chance to understand what it meant, how our system of government works,” said Dingell, who is the longest-serving member of Congress. “Not just technical things like how you introduce a bill or what a committee meeting means and that sort of stuff, but you get an understanding of the underlying theory of what the founding fathers intended that this body should work like. You get an understanding of the interplay of the House and the Senate.”
NCSL doesn't track state legislative page programs closely. However, in 2004 we conducted a survey and received reports from 20 legislatures about their page programs. They range widely from one day programs for younger students to full-time jobs for an entire session for college students or recent graduates. Two of the more sophisticated ones are the session-long Virginia General Assembly Page Program and the week-long Washington Senate and House page programs.
We haven't heard of any recent cutbacks in state legislative page programs. Let us know if any of these programs have been eliminated in recent years.
Photo credit: Washington Senate