In 1990, Mark Foley was elected as a Republican to the Florida House of Representatives, and two years later to the Florida Senate. His quick rise continued in 1994, when he was elected to the US House of Representatives in Newt Gingrich’s “Republican Revolution.” He won re-election five times, and remained in the House until two Fridays ago. Until recently, he was very popular among his constituents, and regularly enjoyed more than 60% of the vote.
Foley was well known in Congress for his fierce opposition to child pornography, and chaired the House Caucus on Missing and Exploited Children. He was also a deputy whip in the House. This summer, Representative Foley was one of the chief authors of legislation targeting child sex predators. President Bush signed this bill into law in July, which created a national sex offender database. At the time, Foley gushed about his accomplishment: “We used to track library books better than we do sex offenders, but this bill will even that score.” It came as a shock, then, when reports of sexual emails and instant messages between Foley and a young male congressional page forced his resignation last Friday.
Last summer, Rep. Foley, who is single, began e-mail correspondence with a former congressional page, asking for his age – 16 at the time – and a picture. Last November, the boy went to the St. Petersburg Times and the Miami Herald with the emails, which were described as “very inappropriate.” On Sept. 28, ABC News finally reported on the story. Foley’s challenger called for an investigation, but Foley, unsurprisingly, dismissed the allegations as partisan attacks. The next day, it got a whole lot juicier, when sexually explicit instant messages to other underage pages came out and Foley was forced to resign – as many as 52 conversations have already been published.
Foley asked one page, “Do I make you a little horny?” and also said he wanted to undress him and have sex with him. On another occasion, he left the floor of the House of Representatives during a vote on an emergency appropriations bill for the War in Iraq to have cyber sex in his office. With a 16 year-old.
Mark Foley checked into rehab for alcoholism on Monday, and yesterday, Foley’s lawyer claimed that Foley was deeply disturbed after having been molested as a child by his priest. You’re probably saying, “Okay, so the guy is a drunken pedophile. He resigned his seat. He’s getting help. Most likely, he will be prosecuted. It’s not like anyone else in Congress knew about this.” Ah, if only that were the case.
Almost immediately, the Republican Party at large started to get in trouble. As long ago as last November, three of the top Republicans in the House knew about Foley’s conduct and failed to report him. But these congressmen are hardly important: Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert, House Majority Leader John Boehner, and Tom Reynolds, chairman of the House Republican Campaign Committee.
Life is already tough enough for a Republican without this scandal. Many analysts in both parties are already predicting that the Democrats will win back the House in November. The Bush Administration’s record and policy in Iraq is such a burden to congressmen that the president is rarely asked to attend campaign events. An underage gay sex scandal is all they need to please the Bible Belt voters.
Republicans are currently in a tailspin. Several more seats once thought relatively secure will probably go to Democrats now. Foley’s seat will almost certainly go to the Democratic challenger, Tim Mahoney, thanks in part to a Florida law requiring that Foley’s name remain on the ballot regardless of the new nominee. Reynolds, already in a tight race, could easily lose his seat to his challenger. And to top things off, leaders in both parties are calling for Hastert to resign his position as Speaker.
No, it’s not a good time to be a Republican in Congress. It is, though, much safer to be an underage male congressional page these days. Foley is certainly to blame, but let me pose a question a professor of mine asked: Who is more despicable, a man with severe psychological problems who commits a wrong, or the arrogant men who stand by and let children be harassed when they had the power to stop it? I would recommend looking up Foley’s IM conversations. They are too disturbing and disgusting to repeat here, but I’m sure you will get quite a few laughs out of them. Just remember, next time you’re on AOL Instant Messenger, if you get an IM from a guy called “Maf54,” just tell him you’re of age, and here’s betting he’ll suddenly have less interest in whether he makes you a little horny or not.
Patrick Gibbons is a senior majoring in political science and communications. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org