Foley controversy ebbs
by Bob Roehr
The brouhaha surrounding the revelations that disgraced former Congressman Mark Foley (R-Florida) had inappropriate electronic communications with former pages appears to be dying down as various investigations continue.
The House Ethics Committee grilled former Foley aide Kirk Fordham for five hours behind closed doors on October 12. The openly gay Fordham is believed to have repeated what he has said publicly, that he first told Speaker Dennis Hastert's (R-Illinois) chief of staff about Foley's behavior in 2003.
On October 13, the committee heard from Representative John Shimkus (R-Illinois), chairman of the congressional page program, that he was unaware of the earlier reports. He only learned of Foley's inappropriate electronic exchanges with former pages in the fall of 2005.
At that time, Shimkus and the then-clerk of the House, the openly gay Jeff Trandahl, spoke with Foley and asked him to cease communicating with former pages. Foley agreed to do so and they thought he had complied with that request until the story broke in the press late last month.
One unconfirmed story that has been circulating has been of a drunken Foley knocking on the door of the dormitory for the page program late one night years ago, demanding to be let in. There has been no timeline associated with that alleged incident.
The Capitol Police have conducted a search of their records and could find no report of such an incident. Former police chief Terrance W. Gainer said he could not recall such an incident during his tenure, from 2002 to early this year.
The latter phase of the Foley scandal has included a broader discussion of gays within the Republican Party.
"If anything good has come out of the Foley scandal, it is surely this: The revelation that the political party fond of demonizing homosexuals each election year is as well-stocked with trusted and accomplished gay leaders as virtually every other power center in America," wrote columnist Frank Rich in Sunday's New York Times.
"The longer the aftermath of this scandal continues, with its maniacal finger-pointing and relentless spotlight on the Republican closet, the harder it will be for [the Republican] party to return to the double-dealing that has made gay Americans election-year bogeymen (and women) for so long.
"Any inference that gay Republicans on the Hill conspired to cover up Mr. Foley's behavior is preposterous," wrote Rich. "So far, the slackers in curbing Mr. Foley over the past three years seem more straight than gay."
The latest twist in the anti-gay atmosphere that permeates Washington politics is that federal prosecutors in Arizona are opening a "preliminary assessment" of a camping trip in the Grand Canyon that Representative Jim Kolbe (R-Arizona) took with two former pages over the Fourth of July in 1996. Kolbe is the only openly gay Republican member of Congress, and is retiring at the end of this session.
"Hogwash! This is getting ridiculous!" the congressman's sister, Beth Kolbe, told the Arizona Republic . "Absolutely nothing inappropriate occurred" on the trip.
The rafting trip was at the invitation of the National Park Service, as Kolbe served on a committee with jurisdiction over that agency. The party included sister Beth, a handful of staffers from his office, and two former pages who paid their own way.
Kolbe is traveling in Europe and unavailable for comment. He is one of five finalists to become executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. He is an acknowledged expert in international affairs and has fought for increased funding for HIV programs. The salary for the position would be significantly less than what he could earn as a lobbyist in Washington.