Handling of Page Scandal Annoys Coble
Rep. Howard Coble says he is disturbed not only about the Mark Foley scandal but also about the way other Congress members were notified about it.
"This was a glaring mistake and a glaring omission that should not have occurred," says Coble, whose Sixth District includes Moore County.
Former Rep. Foley, R-Fla., abruptly resigned last week after ABC News reported that he had sent a series of sexually explicit e-mails and instant messages to young male House pages. The scandal has convulsed Washing-ton, threatening the Republican Party with possible loss of its controlling majority in the U.S. House -- and, some say, maybe even in the Senate.
"We have a potential problem here," Coble said Wednesday in a telephone conversation with The Pilot. "It involves a communication between a member of Congress and a page."
The Foley case has stirred up a flurry of concern about the congressional page program, in which high schoolers spend either their entire junior year or a few weeks in the summer running errands and delivering messages for members of the House and Senate.
About a dozen pages -- from Burlington, Greensboro, Mebane, Thomasville and Trinity -- have come from Coble's district since he took office in 1984. Coble's office knew of no congressional pages from Moore County. Any local youth who wanted to be a page would have to go through Coble's office.
U.S. Sens. Elizabeth Dole and Richard Burr are unable to place page nominations, their offices reported, because the privilege of nominating Senate pages is based on seniority. Both Dole and Burr have been in office for less than four years.
Coble said he didn't know much about the Foley situation because Congress hasn't been in session in the time since the scandal broke last Friday. He said he hadn't yet had the chance to talk with other representatives about the kind of changes this might bring to the page program.
"I really hadn't thought about it," Coble said.
Coble's complaint about notification stemmed from the fact that only the chairman of the House's page board was notified about Foley's messages at first, and he didn't pass the information on to the other two members of the board immediately after he found out about Foley's e-mails.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., called Wednesday for an investigation to examine how House leadership handled the Foley information.
Coble said he is concerned that the prestige associated with a page position could put young people in a vulnerable position.
During the school year, 66 young people are appointed to serve as pages in the House. Forty-four slots are allocated to Republicans, 22 for Democratic pages. As many as 30 pages can serve in the Senate -- 18 Republican, 12 Democratic.
"There's no doubt that it's a big deal to the pages," Coble said. "We members would be in an authority position."
The Foley scandal isn't the first time a member of Congress has been accused of inappropriate conduct involving pages.
In 1983, two representatives, Democrat Gerry Studds and Republican Dan Crane, were charged with having sex with 17-year-old pages -- Studds with a young man, Crane with a young woman. And while Crane was not re-elected after the scandal broke, Studs continued to hold his office until he retired in 1997.
Those two incidents resulted in the decision to set up a dormitory for the pages, who spend their entire junior year of high school taking classes and working in Congress. Coble said that's the last time the page program has undergone a dramatic change. It remains to be seen if this current scandal will have any effect on the way the program operates, he said.
"Even in this sophisticated age, 16 is still a tender year," he said. "A 16-year-old needs to be treated with care."
Although Coble said he knows Foley only marginally, both representatives share an unlikely honor -- a Grammy award. The men received honorary Grammies for their services to the music industry.
Coble was chairman of the subcommittee on intellectual properties, and Foley had been an active participant in the arts caucus.
Florence Gilkeson contributed to this story.
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