Morella Recalls Legislating in Heels’

Posted March 13, 2009 at 2:56pm

Six years after losing a re-election bid, former Rep. Connie Morella (R) is returning to Capitol Hill.

On Wednesday, Morella, who represented Maryland’s 8th district from 1987 to 2003, will give a presentation called “Legislating in Heels — An Anecdotal Journey— at the Whittall Pavilion of the Thomas Jefferson Building for the Law Library of Congress’ National Women’s History Month celebration.

Morella co-chaired the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues in the 103rd Congress. She also sponsored two bills that addressed domestic violence against women: the Battered Women’s Testimony Act of 1992 and the Judicial Training Act.

Acting Law Librarian Charles Doyle said Morella is a “particularly appropriate choice— to speak because “she is well-known in her role in advancing the interest of women in legislation.—

Being invited to the Law Library is an honor, Morella said. “When I was in Congress, we relied on [the Library] for legislative insights and background. To be able to go back to them and speak is a privilege.—

Morella chose the title “Legislating in Heels— herself. “I want talk about the travails of being a woman in Congress,— especially in the late 1980s when she became a House Member.

“We just didn’t have enough women. When I came in, there were 24 women out of 425 Members,— Morella said.

Morella admitted that at one point during her tenure in Congress, she found it odd when her former chief of staff told her that a reporter was asking about the kind of shoes she wears. “I said, My shoes are sturdy and stylish.’ Would I be even asked that question if I were a man?— she said, adding in jest: “But sometimes I wear shoes that are spiky enough to use as a weapon if necessary.—

Believing there is strength in numbers, Morella said speaking for women’s month is a way to empower and encourage women to also work on seeking the support of men.

“There’s no way any piece of legislation could pass without a good support network. If you could talk to them, work with them, show them that you care about their constituencies, they would become your biggest supporter,— she said.

But with only two dozen women in the House, Morella said they were able to bond. “Our group was bipartisan. It’s a good network. I think women tend to listen more thoroughly and deeply, and they work for consensus. That does not mean we don’t disagree or get angry. We just try to avoid getting into heated confrontation.—

Hongxia Liu, head of the Law Library’s Directorate of Legal Research, said she was delighted when Morella agreed to speak about honoring women.

“I am familiar with her name for a long time because she represented Bethesda, where I live. I have seen her posters for years in my neighborhood. I have learned to respect her because she crossed party lines to embrace children and women’s issues,— Hongxia said. Morella, for instance, voted for government funding of contraceptives.

Hongxia said she first met Morella in January at the parking lot of a post office in Bethesda.

“I was trying to open my car. Then she walked up to me and told me that it was her car I was trying to open. So apparently we have the same car, a charcoal-colored Toyota Prius,— Hongxia said. The incident ended with Hongxia and Morella exchanging business cards.

Three weeks later, when she was organizing activities in celebration of Women’s History Month, Hongxia thought about inviting the former House Member from Maryland.

“She’s energetic and full of ideas,— Hongxia said of Morella, who turned 78 last February.

“It’s from running in heels that has kept me active,— Morella said, sounding amused. The 16 years of walking from her office to the Capitol has kept her in shape.

“When you hear the bell [signalling a vote], you have to make sure that you terminate what you’re doing and you get over [to the Capitol]. I walked at a brisk pace. That’s how I get my exercise,— she said.

Morella also owes her youthful vitality to attitude. “I believe that attitude is altitude. I’ve been lucky. I like the people I am with and what I’m doing,— she said.

After an unsuccessful bid for a seventh term in 2002 election, Morella was appointed permanent representative to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris from 2003 to 2007. Morella now teaches at American University.

Asked if she has plans to run for office again, Morella quickly replied: “Been there. Done that.—

“Legislating in Heels,— which begins at 1 p.m., is free and open to the public. Seating is limited so reservations are suggested. Call 202-707-9834.