Former congresswoman discusses politics, gerrymandering in TROY speech

Posted: Thursday, 07 April 2016

TROY - Former congresswoman and U.S. Ambassador Connie Morella spoke at Troy University on Wednesday about her tenure in Washington, D.C., and some of the political issues plaguing the federal government.

As one of only 26 women in Congress when she was first elected, Morella said she fought hard for women's issues, including the Violence Against Women Act of 1994.

Morella served as U.S. ambassador to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in Paris from 2003 to 2007 after representing Maryland's 8th district in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1987 to 2003, and she is serving as TROY's Ambassador-in-Residence this spring.

Morella said much has changed politically since her time in Washington, and the changes haven't been for the better.

She said her own Republican Party has been steadily moving "more to the right," and gerrymandering has only exacerbated the country's political divide.

"I think that is because of the redistricting that's taking place," Morella said. "Who does the drawing of the lines? In 90 percent of our 50 states, it's done by the state legislators and the governor. If you're a Democratic governor or legislator, you want to make sure it's favorable to your (party). Republicans are the same way. Both parties are guilty of it."

She said Congress seems less willing to compromise and converse than in prior decades. Morella would like to see representatives and senators on both sides of the aisle forced to sit together and converse on a regular basis.

"Members of Congress go home Thursday and come back Monday or Tuesday morning," she said. "Get them to stay in Congress and get to know each other. When you know somebody, you can disagree with them but you listen to them and you understand them. I'd like to see more bipartisan events where they are forced to sit with each other, events where they bring their families and get to know each other as human beings.

She proposed a plan in which members of Congress stay in Washington for three weeks, then return to their districts for a week.

Morella also lamented the importance of raising money in today's political landscape.

"Thirty percent of the day now is spent raising money," she said. "That's 30 percent of the time that could be used legislatively, visiting with constituents, and instead it is raising money not only for their campaign but for their party. It may be there's some item you're interested in being talked about in the legislature, and you just might not get it if you haven't done your part in raising the money. Do the politicians like it? Absolutely not, but they're doing it to survive."

She encouraged the students in attendance, in particular, to become more active politically, both by voting in primary elections and by eventually running for office.

Asked about how women can support leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, Morella was concise in her criticism.

"I don't support Donald Trump," she said. "I don't know how men can either. It doesn't make sense at all."

Her experience as an ambassador taught her valuable lessons she tried to impart on the audience.

"As an ambassador, you don't do what I did in Congress, which is I acted independently," Morella said. "You do not freelance as an ambassador. You are representing your country, not yourself as an individual. To work together, you have to respect, listen, learn and lead. I hope that is what you will do in everything you pursue."

Connie Morella

Former U.S. Ambassador Connie Morella speaks to a crowd Wednesday evening at Troy University’s campus in Troy, Ala.