Armed with a new documentary and support from alumni including lawmakers and even former page and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, former House pages are launching a bid to restore the program killed in 2011 after a nearly 200-year run.
“We have a page corps that is large and loyal, and we’re ready to work hard to bring back the program, and I think we can,” said Jonathan Turley, the nationally recognized legal scholar who was a House page in the late 1970s.
In an abrupt and unexpected move, former House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi killed the program in August 2011. They cited costs of $5 million and said new technology such as smartphones had replaced the need for pages.
But critics of the decision, which did not affect the still-operating Senate Page Program, said the real reason was that House leaders were tired of dealing with inappropriate behavior by House members toward the male and female teenagers.
Washington accepted the decision to essentially punish the pages.
But the start of the #MeToo movement and new activism by former pages are pushing the program's revival.
Former page and current U.S. Coast Guard Commander Camilla Bosanquet made the case when the new documentary, “Democracy’s Messengers: The Never-Before-Told Story of Young Americans on Capitol Hill,” debuted last week at the National Archives in Washington.
Joining Turley and other former pages on the stage to discuss the program and their experience, she said, “I can’t help but think it’s not unlike the #MeToo movement and everything that is going on in society today. Why are we blaming the pages rather than holding people accountable to appropriate standards of conduct?
“I believe we should bring back the page program in the House. Absolutely.”
She, Turley, Frank Mitchell, the first black House page since Reconstruction, and Jerry Papazian, the movie’s producer and president of the U.S. Capitol Page Alumni Association, said that while being a page is a great experience for the teens, they also provide a youthful perspective for House members beyond just delivering messages.
“Pages really do play an important role for these members because it does remind them of why they first came there, and that’s why we need it back in the House,” Turley said.
“The fact that we are not there in the people’s house is one of the greatest scandals of my lifetime. I will never understand it. But we need to reverse it and bring the tradition back,” he added.
The alumni association hopes to show current House members and leaders the 30-minute film that documents the program.
“I think we have to remind them that when they talk about the next generation, they shouldn’t be shooting a program that was about the next generation," Turley said. "And we need to show them films like this, about what this meant not just for pages but for what pages meant to history. We have a good argument to make. We have a good case to present. And I think that if we get together and we use all of our assets, we can bring the House system back.”