No Boys Allowed in this Congressional Club
This is the sixty-first episode of Public Interest Podcast with former Congresswoman Connie Morella who speaks about her work advocating for women's issues as a member of The Congressional Caucus for Women's Issues.
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Connie Morella is a former congresswoman of Maryland's eight congressional district and a former member of the Maryland House of Delegates.
Morella: I really hope that all of my adult professional life [has been spent in service to the] public service and to our community and to our country. I think that I have served a community in the state legislature where I could see democracy in action [and, subsequently have been] fortunate enough to [serve in the] U.S. Congress for 16 years. Beyond that Jordan, I have served as our United States Ambassador to the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris for four years, which came about through the Marshall Plan where former Secretary of State George Marshall gave an address which was about fifteen hundred words that [would] change the world [through] the Marshall Plan.
Cooper: This was right after World War II.
Morella: Actually he gave this speech in 1945. And so right now, Jordan, I serve on a number of committees and in a number of positions that I think can enhance equality for women. [I currently serve on] the Monuments Commission that oversees all of our cemeteries overseas, of which there are 26 (with 14 being in France). [These cemeteries are] sacred ground.
Cooper: That's an eclectic array of service projects. Perhaps we could go back to the very beginning and talk about why it was you ever got involved in political campaigns and what first inspired you to become a Republican, since I remember reading that you had initially grown up with in a Democratic household?
Morella: Sure. I actually was a Democrat and frankly I became a Republican in order to vote in a primary to help Charles ‘Mac’ Mathias, who became a very prominent U.S. Senator. After his election I became a Republican to vote in the primaries, [and by the way] that is something that should be changed; we should have open primaries. I said that people shouldn’t have to [limit themselves to] one party [where] independents are not enfranchised. [There were] a whole slew of very prominent Republicans who actually felt the same way as I did in terms of foreign affairs and in terms of individual liberties, so I stayed with them.
I did my teaching and became selected by the county executive to serve on something called the Commission on Women, which was probably around 1972, and [which came about as a result of debate about the] Equal Rights Amendment, which had passed in Congress. A member of Congress from Michigan actually got the bill on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives with a majority of the members of the House signing onto it and she succeeded in moving the bill forward for a constitutional amendment, which then required the bill to go to 38 states for approval.
I've always been interested [in women’s issues] and obviously I am a woman. [I have worked to advance the cause of women pertaining to] credit, housing, education, and employment where there was no equity. As a matter of fact, in the newspaper therw was one section that had jobs for males and one section soliciting women to be a secretary, clerk, or possibly a schoolteacher.
Cooper: You're saying when you grew up not only were bathrooms separated by color, but newspapers were separated by sex?
Morella: Absolutely. There were myriad other opportunities for men [that were not available for women such as opportunities to become] doctors, lawyers, engineers, and construction workers.
Cooper: And what would happen if a woman applied for a job in the male section with the same qualifications as a male?
Morella: They would have probably said that they didn’t have an opening. Also, at that time, if I wanted a credit card in my name I'd have to have a male sign for me. It wasn't until the Equal Credit law passed Congress that that law changed. [In many respects the rights accorded to a woman were akin to those accorded to] a child; [there was no recourse if you were terminated from your job or] if you wanted to have a child; it wasn't until the Pregnancy Discrimination bill passed that [women could determine what how and when they would carry a pregnancy].
Cooper: You mentioned a number of issues that seemed to you to be unfair and that seem to have motivated you to run for elected office. Which brings me to the topic of the Equal Rights Amendment. So many states passed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA); why is it no longer possible for just one more state or two more states to pass it and it become law? Why has it expired whereas the 27th Amendment to the Constitution was passed 203 years after it was initially introduced?
Morella: I don't know why in one case it didn't expire, but that's exactly what happened. Maryland passed the ERA anyway but it did not make the 38 votes it needed to pass and despite years of extensions on its expiration date, it ultimately expired. Right now the Equal Rights Amendment is in Congress as a piece of moribund legislation that hasn't gone through committee. But the bottom line is that I was motivated to actually become a candidate by the women's movement. I thought, you know, the way to get things done is to have a seat at the table.
Cooper: So are you a natural politician? Is this something you would have pursued had you been born 100 years ago or 100 years hence on a platform with different issues?
Morella: I was just so inspired by the women’s rights movement.
Cooper: Does being a politician cater to your personality type? Is it something that you were always somewhat called to or has elected office actually been more along the lines of a common political narrative, which is that you never expected to be elected and all of a sudden you got more involved and the next thing you know you were elected?
Morella: Quite frankly I think you don't run for office without a reason. In addition to that having a purpose, a plan, perseverance, and patience I think you have to respect people and appreciate them. I've always enjoyed being with people and learning more about them. So that's I think that's an active component in politics
Cooper: So let's talk about issues. What would you say were some of the more defining issues of your political career? Would you say women's issues were some of the most important issues that you brought to the table with your candidacy and while you were in elected office or were there are an assortment of other issues that defined your time in elected office?
Morella: While in Congress [I worked on policy affecting] the National Institute of Standards Technology, the National Institutes of Health, and the Food and Drug Administration and we sometimes got forgot that [NIST, NIH, and FDA are acronyms that don't mean anything to most people, but I since I represented a significant number of federal employees I was fairly involved in working with funding for those agencies].
Cooper: I’m wondering why you were placed in positions of leadership by other elected officials, whether by President George W. Bush or, previously, by the Speaker putting you on the Technology Subcommittee on which you were able to exert such an influence?
Morella: Well I think [I was appointed to the Subcommittee because it had jurisdiction over] issues that directly affected my district. [And since a preponderance of my constituents were federal employees] I knew a lot about the subject matter.
Cooper: Could you elaborate upon the order of your priorities when you were in the Maryland General Assembly? Often legislators prioritize their district first, then county, and finally the interests of the state, but it seems as though you prioritize your nation first, then your district, and then your conscience? In the state legislature you had the ability to enact laws affecting areas as diverse as Washington County in Western Maryland and Talbot County in Southern Maryland. Was your first loyalty to your legislative district, to your county, or to your state?
Morella: Montgomery County really [commanded my primary loyalty]. I felt that what was good for my county was good for my state.
Cooper: Did you ever find yourself in a position where you were saying well on the one hand this is in the best interest of the state but voting that way will come at the expense of a lot of my constituency who actually elected me into office?
Morella: It does happen and it's a very tough decision when it does.
Cooper: A very clear example of this dilemma can be found in the proposal to fund the Maryland Stadium Authority to build Camden Yards for the Baltimore Orioles, and later for the Baltimore Ravens’ stadium or then-Mayor Donald Schaefer’s Convention Center, which have brought in revenue and tourism for Baltimore City, thus helping the State of Maryland. But on the other hand those projects were funded with statewide tax dollars from people in southern, western, and eastern Maryland in addition to your own constituency in Montgomery County, many of whom might never attend an event at any of those project sites. The real economic benefit is realized by the bars, restaurants, and hotels in Baltimore City. How did you justify that to your constituents?
Morella: It's hard actually and it weighs very heavily on you.
Cooper: So I want to now bring the conversation back to some of the main themes from the beginning of this conversation which is that there used to be a glass ceiling for women in in certain areas of the economy and in politics. When you entered political life there weren't too many women serving as your colleagues. Can you speak to whether there was ever such a thing as a good ole boy’s club among congressmen and what it was like to be a woman in the U.S. Congress?
Morella: I entered Congress in 1986 when women were representing a few other regions and there were two women in the U.S. Senate, which is pretty small when you think about it; about 24 women in a 535 member legislative body. [Us women] would meet periodically and talk about issues that we had in common and that we might be able to muster for. Very often the guys would see like four or five women on the floor of the house together talking and would exclaim, “oh my gosh what are they going to have now?”
Cooper: So how did you claim center stage and build coalitions around the concept that perhaps half of your colleagues’ constituencies might have been female at any given time?
Morella: There were two separate pieces of legislation that we worked on that reminded my colleagues of their families, wives, friends, and children who would be benefitted by the law. But mainly I think we had hard work to do [and we coalesced around that].
Cooper: Did men ever join the Women's Caucus as, for instance, men have frequently joined women's political clubs?
Morella: Oh yeah, well if we had a big meeting I argued that men should be allowed to attend but not actually to the point that that was going to take away the strength of the caucus. Some of my compatriots and colleagues who pushed forward legislation [that supported a woman’s agenda] were men.
Cooper: I like to ask you to reflect on your life in public service through your work as a volunteer and as an elected official. There have been many issues that you've pushed forward and I would like you to reflect upon your motivations and how they may have evolved or remained constant over time?
Morella: I feel that I'm a happy camper and a very lucky person. I've had a number of barriers and obstacles, I suppose, along the way. I'm the daughter of immigrant parents. I remember my mother had the benefit of coming to my first swearing-in ceremony. As an aside, I told her that then-U.S. Senator Paul Sarbanes, a Democrat, was there and my mother didn't know the difference between the political parties.
I just hope that in terms of my legacy [I hope that] people will say that they’re a little better off because I passed that piece of legislation or because I helped them with their visa. [In sum,] I hope that I can live up to the possibilities that been given to me. And I have had a lot of opportunities and privileges. [America] is a great country.
Cooper: That has been former Congresswoman Connie Morella, who speaks about her lifetime in service as one in which she has had many opportunities to positively influence many individuals and that her legacy might be aptly characterized as having had the ability to have had a positive impact others’ lives; that her drop in the bucket may have very many lasting positive ramifications. And for Connie, that constitutes a meaningful life.