Worker Bees of the House: Profile of the Ohio House Page Program
By Cristin Kumar
Taking part in The Ohio House of Representatives Page Program is almost a rite of passage for die-hard politicos in and around Ohio. Perhaps you’ve seen them around Capital Square or within the House chamber, dressed in blazers and donning nametags, running from the Page Resource Center to Members’ offices to assist them in their legislative duties or stationed in the House chamber at the ready, preparing to run a vote to the House Clerk’s office. In some ways, they resemble worker bees maintaining the hive of activity that is The Ohio House.
World History of Pages
Believe it or not, Pages herald back to the Middle Ages. It is said the term “page” is derived from the Latin term “pagus,” meaning “servant,” in addition to the Greek word “pais,” meaning “child.” In the Middle Ages, a Page was a young boy sent to serve a nobleman, delivering messages and performing various tasks. The service was reimbursed through in-kind payment, as he would receive combat training and schooling throughout his tenure. While the current day Page may not be expected to learn how to wield a sword or ride a horse, the underlying concept has remained true. Pages are an integral piece of the engine behind the inner-workings of the Ohio Statehouse, as is true for legislative Pages in legislatures around the country.
A perhaps better known program, the U.S. House of Representatives Page Program in Washington, DC, experienced several scandals (http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/09/us/politics/09page.html) throughout its 180-year history. The U.S. House Page Program employed high school juniors as non-partisan federal employees for temporary periods. House Pages were employed to act as messengers to Members and staff between offices and the Capitol building, collect floor remarks, and conduct other various tasks (for which they were paid a small stipend). House Pages even committed an act of heroism, carrying to safety an injured congressman who had been shot when Puerto Rican Nationalists stormed the U.S. House Chamber in 1954. Unfortunately, many of the Pages’ responsibilities became obsolete in the age of technology. In 2011, then-U.S. House Speaker John Boehner and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi announced the decision to end the program citing “advances in technology” having rendered pages’ duties obsolete and the cost of the program outweighing the benefits (http://history.house.gov/Exhibitions-and-Publications/Page-History/Historical-Essays/End/). The U.S. Senate still maintains its Page program.
Thankfully, the Ohio House Page Program has been spared such controversy and fade into obsolescence, as Pages perform crucial tasks almost as a “temp” would, filling in for legislative aides or adding more manpower to answering phones at busy times. For all intents and purposes, they appear to be integral to the past, present, and future of the institution of the Ohio House.
Ohio House Page Program: Then
Though there exists no official record of the beginning of the General Assembly’s page program, oral history collected from staff with institutional knowledge indicates Pages have been around the Ohio Statehouse for at least 117 years. A photograph of the General Assembly from 1866 lists specific staff as “Messengers,” who are believed to have been the first iteration of Pages. Another photographic record from the 1900-1901 General Assembly officially indicates specific staff as “Pages,” signifying the first official record of these integral players in the legislature’s history.
Even one of Ohio’s favorite sons, Jesse Owens, the OSU track star who competed in the 1936 Olympic Games, was a Page. According to the OSU webpage dedicated to Owens, he entered school in 1933 and left in 1941 without a degree. In May of 1935, while he was busy setting world records at the Big Ten Finals, preparing for the Olympics, and still enrolled in school, he was also being recognized by the General Assembly for his achievements and appointed as an “honorary page,” to serve during the summer session.
Ohio House Page Program: Now
Today, House Page Resource Officer, Graham McCready, manages up to 125 legislative pages and volunteer interns at once, depending on the time of year in which they serve. Understandably, the budget cycle tends to be the busiest time – Mr. McCready notes 85 pages are currently serving. During the school year, pages primarily come from the Greater Columbus area, though some drive in from schools like Denison or Ohio University. The majority are political science majors from area four years and two years. A small percentage also come from business and other more outside-the-box backgrounds, which McCready argues helps to diversify and ultimately strengthen the program.
What are the program’s leaders looking for in candidates? Eligible applicants must be full-time (at least 12 credit hours) undergraduate students with the ability to serve 12-20 hours during the week. And because turnover is inherently high, it is preferred that a candidate commits to a semester of work. McCready tends to look for characteristics such as courteousness and reliability, as well as enthusiasm for and a basic understanding of the legislative process. To sweeten the deal: Pages receive a stipend for their hard work, making it a feasible option for college students to supplement their studies, room and board. What’s more, being a Page is an once-in-a-lifetime experience, providing access to happenings within the Statehouse most people will never witness; specifically, they are the only other individuals allowed on the House Floor other than Members during votes.
According to staff in the Speaker’s office (many of whom also were past Pages), members of the current General Assembly who were past Pages include Rep. Rick Carfagna (R-Genoa Township), Sen. Kris Jordan (R-Ostrander), and Rep. Jim Hughes (R-Upper Arlington). Rep. Hughes said of his experience:
“Over the years, the Ohio House Page Program has provided an opportunity for so many young people to have first-hand experience in the legislative process. This experience often leads to futures in public service or other professions that serve to make our state a better place. I look back at my experience as a page fondly, and I have always considered it a very important part of my education during my earlier years.”
While serving as a Page is a great way to familiarize yourself with the legislative process and foundation for a future in public service, Mr. McCready wants prospective applicants to know – you need not be a political science major to apply. In fact, before becoming a legislative aide for Representative Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) McCready was a management major, a degree that has certainly come in handy in his work of managing the schedules and responsibilities of over 120 pages and interns at a time. Says McCready, “no matter what you do in life - whether it’s politics or not - you’re going to be able to take and learn from this how to conduct yourself in the workplace…there’s something here for everyone.”
If you know anyone interested in applying for the Ohio House Page Program, McCready notes the application is rolling, so he or she may apply at any time of the year. Check out the House Page Program’s website here for more information and to download the application: http://www.ohiohouse.gov/internship-opportunities/page-program.