Watt says don’t jump to conclusions about Hastert
Publication Salisbury Post by Scott Jenkins
Date October 04, 2006
Amid calls Tuesday for the resignation of U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert in the wake of revelations about former Rep. Mark Foley’s sexually explicit e-mails to congressional pages, U.S. Rep
By Scott Jenkins
Amid calls Tuesday for the resignation of U.S. House Speaker Dennis Hastert in the wake of revelations about former Rep. Mark Foley’s sexually explicit e-mails to congressional pages, U.S. Rep. Mel Watt said he would reserve judgment until the facts are known.
Dr. Ada Fisher, a Salisbury Republican challenging Watt in the 12th District, issued a statement saying “any (Republican or Democrat) member of staff who willingly participated in a cover-up of Mr. Foley’s actions or who knew of these misadventures should be removed from leadership positions and resign.”
Foley, a Republican from Florida who has served 12 years in Congress and was seeking re-election, resigned last week after it became public that he sent explicit e-mails and engaged in lurid online conversations with teenage boys serving as House pages.
Critics charge that Hastert, a Republican from Illinois, had evidence that the exchanges were going on for several years and failed to act on that knowledge. Many have called for him to resign, among them Democrats in congressional races. But Watt said he needs to learn “what he knew and when he knew it.”
“If it is true that he knew, especially, the depth of what was going on as early as some people are now saying, I think he had some responsibilities that he didn’t exercise, he didn’t take seriously, reporting to police officials, taking more aggressive steps to protect the pages,” Watt said. However, he added, “I never want to prematurely call for someone to step down. I think you get the facts first and let the action follow the facts, and there’s time to get the facts.”
Watt, the Democratic incumbent, called the scandal “unfortunate primarily for the young people he was interacting with” and for Foley, who “probably has a serious problem of some kind. He said it is “yet another negative reflection on an institution that really can’t afford those kinds of negative reflections.”
But he took issue with Fisher’s charge that the Foley scandal is “a prime example of how Congress doesn’t apply to itself the laws that it implements for others” and with her connecting it to his opposition of Megan’s Law, which notifies communities of convicted sex offenders living among them, and a national database to track and identify sex offenders.
“If we are unwilling to protect our children, we are writing off the future of this nation,” Fisher said.
“There is no cure or effective treatment for people so predisposed, and monitoring their behavior may prevent others from being hurt even if they served their time,” she said. “It is not a question of civil liberties, but one of child protection.”
Watt said he opposed Megan’s Law because “I thought forcing people to pre-register in anticipation that they might do something in the future was unconstitutional,” he said. After the Supreme Court ruled that sex offenders could be forced to register, Watt said, he voted to fund the registration mechanism.
Members of Congress are not exempt from the law, he said. Still, “You certainly wouldn’t have Congressman Foley register on a sexual predator list before he was ever convicted of anything. So Megan’s Law wouldn’t have prevented this from happening.”
“It’s just one of those situations where she’s mixing two issues and probably not understanding fully either one of them, which is not unusual for my opponent,” he said.
The scandal is a topic in other local races, as well.
Republican Rep. Robin Hayes, who received money from political committees run by former Foley, was under particular pressure, both from state Democrats and re-election challenger Larry Kissell, a high school teacher running a grass-roots campaign against the well-funded incumbent from Concord.
“It’s becoming clear that a lot of folks in Washington knew about Foley’s problems long before the public did,” Kissell spokesman Steve Hudson said in a statement. “Our question is who knew what and when?”
Hayes’ spokeswoman, Carolyn Hern, said the congressman from Concord had no knowledge of Foley’s communications with pages.
“The first time that Robin was aware of any problems with Foley and this e-mail issue was when he heard it on the news like everybody else,” Hern said. “I wouldn’t say that he and Rep. Foley hung out. They had a working relationship, but not a friendship outside of work.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
Contact Scott Jenkins at 704-797-4248 or firstname.lastname@example.org.