“Jack” Dingell hunted rats “nearly as big as a dog” in the Capitol basement. Paul Kanjorski set off smoke bombs on Third Street Northeast and dodged bullets on the House floor. Tom Davis got thrown into the Neptune Fountain in front of the Library of Congress’ Thomas Jefferson Building.
Just another day in the Capitol trenches for these intrepid Congressmen?
Yes — when they were teenagers.
Dingell, Kanjorski and Davis are just three of the 11 current Members who began their political careers as Congressional pages, responding to Members’ requests on the chamber floors, delivering messages and helping staff the Cloakrooms.
For some who were the scions of political families, working as a page was a chance to be close to fathers and to see firsthand their political world. For boys from small towns with minimal exposure to Washington, D.C., being a page opened their eyes to political possibilities.
Then again, some simply were struck by the Capitol’s modern conveniences.
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), a House page for one month in the summer of 1970, never forgot the feel of the Rayburn House Office Building’s “long, cool, air-conditioned hallways” and the newfangled IBM Selectric typewriters.
“None of us had ever seen them before,” Cooper says.
Little Johnny Goes to Capitol Hill “It was really my father’s idea,” says Rep. Dan Boren (D-Okla.), the son of former Sen. — and one-time page — David Boren (D-Okla.).
The younger Boren, who was appointed a Senate page in the summer of 1989 by Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), concedes he wasn’t all that focused on politics as a teenager. Boren’s parents divorced when he was 3, so coming to Washington, D.C., to page in the Senate was “kind of a way for me to be close to him.” (“I think Dad paid me out of his own pocket,” he says.)
As it happened, though, “we didn’t really see each other that much” during the workday, save for lunch breaks when Boren and his father would grab burgers in the Senate dining room.
Like Boren, Sens. Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), plus Reps. John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Rush Holt (D-N.J.), were the sons of current or former Members when they served as pages.
Of the remaining six former pages-turned-Members — Reps. Cooper, Davis (R-Va.), Kanjorski (D-Pa.), Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), Jim Kolbe (R-Ariz.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) — several acknowledged having some sort of family connection to the Member who appointed them, or at least a friendship with someone close to that Member.
Donnald Anderson, the most recent Democratic Clerk of the House and an emeritus member of the House Page Board, insists that the prevalence of such connections in this sample of pages is an anomaly. “Contrary to the spin that’s been put on it externally, I always found the page program to be more of a meritocracy than who had an inside track,” he says.
In the days when page slots mainly were distributed based on patronage, some House Members chose to appoint a new page every month, with few application requirements. (Now, along with other requirements, pages in both chambers must have a B average, be 16 years old and a high school junior. They also generally are limited to one semester of service.)
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.