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Turning the Page

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Carlos De La Torre (second from right) and Hannah Marrs (right) were among former pages who urged Members' offices to keep the program after Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced in 2011 that it would end.

House pages were responsible for administrative tasks coming out of their sponsoring Members' offices, making runs to the flag office or to feed a new piece of legislation into the hopper. During votes, they assisted staffers in the Democratic and Republican cloakrooms by doing tabulations and delivering documents and messages to lawmakers on the House floor.

Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), who served as chairman of the House Page Board, concedes that the floor staffers probably notice a difference in their workload since the pages left.

"The ones who have to ring the bells now and go bring drinks, make sure the speaker has water and that kind of stuff - that used to be functions of two pages who would do that at all times," Bishop said. "We haven't been able to make that easier for [floor secretaries]. I think it's been somewhat cumbersome for them."

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), who said he spent "more time with [pages] than any other Member on both sides of the aisle," agreed the House floor is one area where pages are missed.

"It's created some issues for Members," he explained. "Most of us are professional jugglers. It's difficult to get messages, particularly phone messages, when we're on the floor. Pages would deliver notes to Members that were very important."

But on the whole, Bishop said he doubts people miss pages' contributions all that much, in part because it's been a long time since they've filled an essential role.

The House page job description, first conceived decades ago, stayed the same even as messages once scribbled on paper began to get zapped to mobile devices and legislation could be called up on office computers rather than run off the printers in the document office.

"There were lots of discussions on what to do with the pages, how we could expand their role to give them more meaningful things to do than running flags. So much of their workload ... was now being done electronically," Bishop said. "The last major job that the pages had to do was delivering flags, but that's been automated now as well."

The rise of the Congressional intern also made pages somewhat obsolete in more recent years, as did the growth of Congressional support staffs over the second half of the 20th century.

Representatives from several House offices interviewed by Roll Call said they rarely used pages; in cases where they did, they now dispatch interns.

"In the days before internships became de rigueur and staffs were smaller, pages filled a real need," said one Congressional spokesman who held staff positions throughout the 1970s and 1980s. "Today, many documents are sent via email, and many offices maintain a regular cadre of interns who can fill in the gap."

Missing the Mentoring Bond

One of the hallmarks of the House page program was the mentoring relationship that could be forged between pages and their supervisors.

"When a 16-year-old became a page, they were staff members. ... The impression was definitely made that we were equals," said Carlos De La Torre, a 2008 page and now a senior at Georgetown University. "And in many regards, because we were young, impressionable individuals, we looked up to the floor staffers as mentors. They were our supervisors, our models for how we should conduct ourselves."

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